Players from Barcelona FC and Real Madrid, two powerhouse Spanish League soccer teams, dominated the recently-released shortlist of candidates for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or award, which honors the world's top soccer player. This year's favorites include Argentinian prodigy and two-time winner Lionel Messi, Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Spanish maestro Xavi Hernández.
Of the 23 players on the 2011 Ballon d'Or list, seven are of Spanish origin, more than any other country. In addition, Spanish club Barcelona FC has eight players on the list and Real Madrid FC has five.
Who is the favorite to win the 2011 Ballon d'Or? Current Barca player Cesc Fàbregas has an idea. "I would put my hand in fire that Messi will win the Ballon d'Or," Fàbregas said. "He is a natural winner and a motivated fighter. What he has done we won't see again. He gives everything and scores goals."
The 24-year-old Messi would be the third three-time winner of FIFA's Player of the Year Award and the first back-to-back-to-back winner. Only Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000 and 2003) and Ronaldo (1996, 1997 and 2002) have won the award three times since its inception in 1991.
The top three players will be revealed Dec. 5 in Paris, with the eventual champion to be crowned Jan. 9, 2012, in Zurich, Switzerland.
2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or Shortlist
Eric Abidal (FRA), Sergio Aguero (ARG), Xabi Alonso (ESP), Daniel Alves (BRA), Karim Benzema (FRA), Iker Casillas (ESP), Samuel Eto'o (CMR), Cesc Fabregas (ESP), Diego Forlan (URU), Andres Iniesta (ESP), Lionel Messi (ARG), Thomas Müller (GER), Nani (POR), Neymar (BRA), Mesut Ozil (GER), Gerard Pique (ESP), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR), Wayne Rooney (ENG), Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER), Wesley Sneijder (NED), Luis Suarez (URU), David Villa (ESP) and Xavi (ESP)
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