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Monday, December 6, 2010
Barca dominates FIFA's top-player nominees

By Scott French

First thought upon seeing the finalists for FIFA's Ballon d'Or award: Where's Wesley Sneijder?


Three very deserving Barcelona stars -- midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi, the most prominent figures in Spain's World Cup triumph, and Argentine forward Lionel Messi, the world's biggest star -- are up for the honor, called FIFA World Player of the Year before it merged with France Football magazine's legendary Ballon d'Or (or “Golden Ball” award for the top European star.

Marta, Women's Professional Soccer's two-time MVP, is up for the women's Ballon d'Or, and U.S. coach Pia Sundhage is a finalist for women's Coach of the Year.

Messi, who won FIFA's and France Football's awards last year after finishing second in FIFA's balloting the two previous years, scored 47 goals in 53 appearances for Spanish champs Barca during the 2009-10 season and has 25 in 20 games this season. He did not score during the World Cup in South Africa but was nonetheless among the event's finest attacking players.

Xavi provided the foundation of Spain's World Cup triumph, combining with Iniesta to create the mobile, quick-passing attack so key to the victory.

Sneijder should be there, too, probably in place of Iniesta. The Dutch midfielder led Inter Milan to its fifth straight Italian Serie A title and to the UEFA Champions League crown, then was the pivotal player as Holland reached the World Cup final. Inter's poor start to this campaign might have harmed his candidacy.

Up for the inaugural men's Coach of the Year award: Spain's Vicente del Bosque, Barcelona's Pep Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese strategist who guided Inter Milan to its trophies last season, then moved to Real Madrid last summer.

Marta, joined by German stars Birgit Prinz and (Kosovo-born) Fatmire "Lira" Bajramaj on the women's list, has won the last four FIFA awards, and Prinz won the three before that. Prinz has been runner-up the past three years. No American has been in the top three since Kristine Lilly finished second in 2006; Mia Hamm won in 2001 and 2002, the first two years women were honored, and finished second to Prinz in 2003 and 2004.

Sundhage is competing with Germany coach Silvia Neid and Germany under-20 coach Maren Meinert -- the Women's United Soccer Association's MVP in 2003 -- for the coaching award.

The awards will be announced at a gala Jan. 10 in Zurich.