x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Messi, Iniesta and Xavi nominated for Ballon d'Or award

The Barcelona trio are selected for the coveted Fifa award for the world player of the year.

PARIS // Barcelona players Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi are the three nominees for Fifa's "Ballon d'Or" award for the world player of the year.

Midfielders Iniesta and Xavi helped Spain win their first World Cup, while the Argentina forward Messi spearheaded Barcelona to another Spanish title.

Messi won the Ballon d'Or, or Golden Ball, award last year when France Football magazine chose the best player in Europe. The Golden Ball is being merged this year for the first time with Fifa's player of the year award to create one trophy.

The inaugural coach of the year award is between Jose Mourinho — who won the Champions League and the domestic League and Cup double with Inter Milan — Spain's Vicente del Bosque and Barcelona's Pep Guardiola.

The winners will be announced on January 10.

"Barcelona are dominating the Spanish league at the moment," the Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said Monday. "Not only is Spanish football dominating but Barcelona is as well. Spanish football has really been ahead since 2008."

Iniesta scored the winning goal against Holland in this year's World Cup final, settling a tense and sometimes brutal match 1-0. He collected a cushioned pass from the Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas and finished with a shot into the opposite corner just minutes from the end of extra time to avoid a penalty shoot-out.

Xavi was arguably Spain's best player at the tournament, linking superbly with Iniesta in a midfield that prided itself on one-touch passing coupled with exceptional movement off the ball.

Spain fielded a similar midfield when it won the European Championship two years ago, with several Barcelona players in both teams.

Messi and Argentina were a disappointment at the World Cup, failing to replicate his club form, and he did not manage a goal in South Africa, having scored 34 league goals heading into the tournament. Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarter-finals.

But Messi has continued his rich vein of form this season and already has 15 league goals from just 12 games.

Although he did not score, Messi was the architect of Barcelona's 5-0 destruction of Mourinho's Real Madrid last week, when he showed another side to his game with some sublime passing to set up striker David Villa in the second half.

Guardiola's Barcelona are widely recognised as the benchmark for slick, attacking football, and his team has now scored 19 goals in the last four games without conceding.

Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti criticised the absence of playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who was instrumental in leading the club to a treble of titles last season and then helped the Netherlands reach the World Cup final.

"I find it very unfair. Sneijder had a phenomenal year and won everything that he could have. He deserved the Golden Ball," Moratti said. "It seems unfair to me that the award be given to someone who didn't have the same type of performance throughout the year, even if we're talking about a great player."

Sneijder was probably penalised for Inter's poor start to this season, with the club lying in sixth place in Serie A.