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The contenders: how Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi compare ahead of Ballon d'Or announcement

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 11:11 IST

For the last seven years, Real Madrid maverick Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona wizard Lionel Messi have maintained a duopoly over the Ballon d'Or - the trophy awarded to the best player in the world in the calendar year.

Nobody else has won the prize since Kaka in 2007, but 2015 could be the year that challenges the dominance of Ronaldo and Messi - in the form of a boy from Brazil called Neymar Jr.

The final nominations for the Ballon d'Or this year includes Neymar alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with many believing that he might actually take the prize this year.

The case for Neymar to win the Ballon d'Or ahead of Ronaldo and Messi is a compelling one. His rise in the Barcelona team alongside Messi has been astronomical, with Luis Suarez of Uruguay completing the trinity that has been called the best attacking lineup in history.

Here's what is in Neymar's favour leading up to the gala event in Zurich on 11 January, when the winner of the Ballon d'Or will be introduced. We also look at the performances of the other two stalwarts over the calendar year.

Neymar Jr

The 23-year-old Neymar already has 251 career goals to his name - 136 for Santos, 69 for Barcelona and 46 to Brazil. To put things in context, at Neymar's age, Messi and Ronaldo had only scored 186 and 127 goals respectively.

Finishing the 2014/2015 campaign as Barcelona's highest scorer with 43 goals in 50 games, perhaps the true realisation of how good a player Neymar was came about when he scored seven goals in Barcelona's final five games of their victorious Champions League campaign of 2014/2015.

In the 2015/2016 campaign, he found the net 14 times and made six assists in just 16 games.

"I have never played football to be the best player in the world, or to win the Ballon d'Or. I've always just played with the idea of continually getting better, to always surpass my goals, to always be better, play better, train better," Neymar said.

If he keeps going at the same goal scoring rate, Neymar is almost guaranteed to lift the Ballon d'Or in the 2016/2017 season, if not on January 11th 2016.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is aiming to win his 4th Ballon d'Or, after a mixed 2015 by his standards. However, he has still managed to hold the Golden Boot after topping Europe's goalscoring charts last season, scoring an incredible 48 league goals.

In October 2015, Ronaldo became Real Madrid's all time leading goalscorer after netting his 324th goal for the club. The fact that he has continued to be named in the shortlist for the best three players in the world year after year is testament to his longevity as one of the modern greats of the game.

Lionel Messi

It was Lionel Messi who led the final charge with an incredible 28 goals in the second half of the season in Barcelona's famous treble triumph of the 2014 - 2015 season.

The feat did not go unnoticed as Messi beat Ronaldo and Neymar to be named the UEFA best player in Europe prize - seen by many as being indicative of the final results of the Ballon d'Or.

However, the one setback that Lionel Messi may face in winning the Ballon d'Or this year is his injury-ravaged start to the 2015 - 2016 campaign, where he has missed more than six league games while Neymar and Suarez have taken over the mantle of leading Barcelona's attack.

First published: 1 December 2015, 6:01 IST