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Barcelona's Lionel Messi reacts during the Primera Liga match with Athletic Bilbao.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi reacts during the Primera Liga match with Athletic Bilbao.

Messi and Ronaldo share same drive to win Ballon d'Or after remarkable year

The pair, along with Andres Iniesta, have both been nominated for the prestigious award in a year of outstanding achievement - and both are determined to win it.

Business as usual for planet football's best two players in Spain on Saturday night.

Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 5-1, putting him level with Gerd Muller's 72-goal record for Bayern Munich in a single year. Including international goals, Muller scored 85 goals in 1972, a record Messi is just a goal behind breaking.

Given that he has netted at least twice in each of his past five games for Barcelona, he is almost certain to break it. Messi already has beaten the second-best record of 75 achieved by Pele while playing for Santos in 1958.

The records tumble by the week. Saturday's goals saw him equal Barca's club record of 190 league goals set by the legendary 1940s and 1950s striker Cesar. Still just 25, he is sure to shatter every record at the club. He has amassed 29 goals so far for Barca this season, playing for a team who have now registered the best start to a Spanish season, winning 13 and drawing one of their 14 games to surpass the great Real Madrid side of 1961/62.

It is not all about Messi and Barcelona. An hour after the Argentine's goals on Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo showed why he is a finalist for the Fifa Ballon d'Or.

Messi, Ronaldo and Messi's teammate Andres Iniesta were the three players selected from a 23-man shortlist, the winner to be announced on January 7.

Ronaldo scored a stunning free kick to put his side ahead in a crucial Madrid derby against neighbours Atletico. Had they lost against a side already eight points ahead of them, pressure would have mounted on coach Jose Mourinho and his star player Ronaldo, but neither are used to losing.

Ronaldo also set up Mesut Ozil for Madrid's second in a 2-0 win. Not for the first time, it was all about Ronaldo. He has scored 60 goals in 2012, not quite at Messi's level, but nevertheless an incredible tally which saw him became a league champion with Madrid and Portugal's top scorer in Euro 2012.

He and Messi are shredding scoring records season after season, with statistics which leave even their few critics bewildered. Statistics like Ronaldo scoring 90 goals in just 81 games at the Bernabeu.

But will it be enough to win the Ballon d'Or?

Messi won the first two, and Ronaldo came second in 2010. Before that, Ronaldo beat Messi to win the Fifa World Player of the Year in 2008, the year he was a Champions League winner with Manchester United. He had been third in 2007 and second behind Messi in 2009.

No two footballers have enjoyed such a duopoly of football's individual awards, yet each of their wins have been by a decisive margin in voting. Ronaldo got 446 votes to Messi's 281 in 2008, Messi 473 to Ronaldo's 233 a year later. For a change this time the result of the votes by coaches, players and journalists will not be so clear cut.

Ronaldo was a league winner, Messi was not. Messi has scored more goals, but success has tended to favour players who have been the stars of the teams which have won major honours.

Kaka, the Brazilian midfielder, won in 2007 after playing a starring role for the AC Milan side that won the Champions League, and Fabio Cannavaro a year earlier after being a World Cup winner with Italy.

Ronaldo and Messi were both feted when their sides won the Champions League, yet neither were Champions League winners in 2012. Nor was Ronaldo a winner with Portugal at Euro 2012 as his side were beaten by many of Messi's teammates in the Spanish national side in the semi-finals. The Argentine didn't have Copa America to contend.

When they win, Messi and Ronaldo are humble and credit their fellow footballers and coaches. Their sentiments are genuine. Yet they are both desperate to win; they show the competitive spirit, in pursuing awards, which has made them so successful in the first place.

Not that you will hear their true feelings. They respect each other, yet their advisers continually tell them not to talk about the other, especially in a manner which could be construed negatively.

When Ronaldo said he thought he should win it to a French magazine, it was taken as being arrogant and a slur against Messi. Yet in Ronaldo's eyes he is merely stating his self-belief and prefers that to false modesty. He also has every reason to be confident.

Of course, the award could go to the third finalist, Andres Iniesta being another who plays in Spain. Iniesta was a huge influence in the Spain which knocked out Portugal from Euro 2012 and was named player of the tournament, yet given the mountain of goals scored by the other two, he remains a distant outsider.

sports@thenational.ae

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