Paris: After years living in the shadow of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to lift the 2013 Ballon d`Or at Monday`s award ceremony in Zurich, pipping the Argentine and Franck Ribery in the process.
National team coaches and captains as well as journalists from around the world have voted for the winner, with an initial 23-man shortlist being reduced to three last month. Messi is a contender to win the trophy for a fifth successive year, but few are talking about the Barcelona star this time, with Bayern Munich`s Ribery hoping his remarkable season at club level gives him the edge against the goalscoring exploits of Real Madrid and Portugal`s Ronaldo.
This year`s prize has been marred by a voting controversy, after the original November 15 deadline was extended by FIFA and co-organisers France Football magazine "on account of an insufficient number of votes having been received". Prior to that, Ribery had been the favourite, but the extension came immediately after Ronaldo`s hat-trick helped Portugal beat Sweden in a play-off to qualify for the World Cup.
That played into the hands of the 28-year-old, who is hoping to win the award for the second time following his success in 2008.
Ronaldo himself claims he is not obsessed with the award, although he admits that he has saved a space for it in his recently-opened museum on his native island of Madeira.
"I prefer to not say anything because things don`t depend solely on me. I am not obsessed with the Ballon d`Or. We will see what happens," he told Spanish radio in November.
Ronaldo won nothing with Real Madrid or with Portugal in 2013, but the Ballon d`Or is an individual award and there can be little doubting the individual quality of a player who scored 66 goals in 56 games for club and country in the calendar year.
In contrast to Ronaldo, Messi did add to his medal collection in 2013, helping Barcelona reclaim the Spanish league title from Madrid. He was also the top scorer in La Liga with a remarkable 46 goals last season, but it was a frustrating year for the Argentine in many ways, marred by hamstring injuries. In the past, the prize has tended to go to a player who has been part of the year`s most successful team, and that is why Ribery was initially fancied to become the first French winner since Zinedine Zidane.
The 30-year-old winger starred as Bayern won five trophies in the calendar year - Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup.
UEFA named him as the Best Player in Europe in 2013 and Bayern`s sporting director Matthias Sammer believes he deserves to take the prize. "I think that only he can win. And if he does so, he will be at the summit of Mount Olympus," declared Sammer recently.
In the coach of the year category, Borussia Dortmund`s Jurgen Klopp is up against two greats who retired in 2013. Alex Ferguson bowed out after almost 27 years in charge of Manchester United by winning the Premier League, while Jupp Heynckes masterminded Bayern`s unprecedented treble last season.
Meanwhile, USA star Abby Wambach will look to take the women`s award for the second year running, although she faces stiff competition from German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer and Brazilian Marta, who won the FIFA award five times in a row between 2006 and 2010.
Ballon d`Or candidates: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid ESP/POR), Lionel Messi (Barcelona ESP/ARG), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich GER/FRA)
Coach of the year candidates: Alex Ferguson (SCO), Jupp Heynckes (GER), Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund/GER)
Women`s Ballon d`Or candidates: Nadine Angerer (Brisbane Roar AUS/GER), Marta (Tyreso SWE/BRA), Abby Wambach (Western New York Flash USA).