SAO PAULO, BRAZIL // Such was the inevitability of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi being included in the shortlist for the Ballon d'Or last night, the chatter surrounding the announcement was not regarding who would win the player of the year prize, but rather who would become the footnote, the third of the final three nominees.
Sergio Aguero, brilliant for Manchester City on their charge to a first league title since 1968, was an option, as was Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao, while Santos's Neymar would have been a popular choice among the Brazilian media who filled the Anhembi Convention Centre. The final nomination went to Andres Iniesta, the mercurial Barcelona and Spain midfielder.
Iniesta's hopes of securing the award, voted for by coaches and captains of national teams as well as international media and announced on January 7, are slim according to Ronaldo, Brazil's two-time World Cup-winning striker.
"Iniesta is a fantastic player, but of the three, Ronaldo and Messi are still quite a way ahead of him," he said.
Sepp Blatter, the president of football's governing body, added that while the nominations are "practically the same as last year" - the 2011 nominations were Ronaldo, Messi and Barcleona teammate Xavi - this reflects the fact such players are playing at a consistently high level.
He added that while Neymar is "an exceptional player" the Brazilian will likely only gain recognition if he moves to Europe or wins the World Cup on home soil in 2014.
Burdened with expectations, the host nation has this week seen their preparations stutter for the showpiece in two years time after head coach Mano Menezes was dismissed. Last night, the Brazilian football association (CBF) confirmed Luiz Felipe Scolari has returned to the helm 10 years after leading his country to success at the 2002 World Cup.
Blatter, who had expressed concern that Brazil would be unable to provide a representative when the draw is made tomorrow for next summer's Confederations Cup, said he was "very happy" a decision had been made so quickly.
"It was absolutely necessary that the leadership of the CBF took steps forward to make this appointment immediately," the Fifa president said. "It was a must; more than a must. To have the draw and the coaches of all the participating national teams here and Brazil to not have a coach ... this was not possible."
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