Neymar joins Messi and Ronaldo as Ballon d’Or finalists

Photo by Angel Boluda/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire

Neymar received one of soccer’s biggest honors Monday, when he was named as one of the three finalists for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or Award.

The young Brazilian star joins long-time rivals Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) in the final trio for the trophy given to the world’s top player. It is the ninth straight year that Messi has made the top three, while Ronaldo has joined him in eight of those seasons, only missing out in 2010.

The winner will be announced on Jan. 11, with Neymar trying to become the first player other than Messi or Ronaldo to win the award since another Brazilian, Kaká, in 2007. Ronaldo finished second that year, with Messi coming third.

Ronaldo won in 2008, before Messi began a streak of four straight trophies from 2009-2012. Ronaldo, though, has won the last two, pulling within one of Messi’s career record.

The Ballon d’Or dates back to 1956, when it was given to England’s Stanley Matthews, and merged with the FIFA Player of the Year award in 2010. There has never been a period of dominance by two players that even comes close to what Messi and Ronaldo have done, with the closest being Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer winning five times in six years between 1971-1976.

Messi is the only player to win the award four times in a career, much less four in a row, while Ronaldo will be trying to join Messi and Michel Platini as the only players to win it three times in a row, with Cruyff and Marco Van Basten also having won three in their careers.

Until 1997, the award was only given to European players, which is why neither Diego Maradona nor Pele were ever chosen.

With Ronaldo and Messi having won the last seven awards, making the final three is now seen as an honor in itself. This year, that honor goes to Neymar, who plays his club football alongside Messi at Barcelona – the arch-rival of Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.

Since 2009, every one of the three finalists has come from Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. Barcelona’s Xavi made it three times, and his teammate Andres Iniesta made the finals twice. Bayern’s Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer were the third finalists in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

After dominating the World Cup this summer, American Carli Lloyd is the overwhelming choice to win the award for the women’s World Player of the Year. She is joined in the final three by Japan’s Aya Miyama and and Germany’s Célia Šašić.

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