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Friday, July 9, 2010
Sneijder, Villa vying for Golden Ball

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

JOHANNESBURG -- FIFA announced its 10 nominees for the Golden Ball on Friday. Two would have sufficed.

Without question, the 10 players selected by FIFA's Technical Study Group to signify the tournament's most outstanding player are all talented performers. But with a tip of the cap to Uruguay forward Diego Forlan, it's a two-horse race between the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder and Spain's David Villa. The rest are just there to make up the numbers, a list that includes Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez of Spain, Lionel Messi of Argentina, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany and Sneijder's teammate, Arjen Robben.

Certainly, some of the nominees are dubious choices. Lionel Messi? Really? He may be the most scintillating player on the planet, but he hardly showed it in Argentina's five tournament games. And Gyan's inclusion smacks of political correctness. He may have scored three goals, but rightly or wrongly, he'll forever be remembered for squandering Ghana's Golden Ticket to the semifinals by missing a stoppage time penalty against Uruguay. Robben's inclusion is also somewhat suspect, since he missed almost the entire group stage due to injury.

And why so little love for defenders? Spain has clearly proved that the best defense is a good offense, but it can be argued that defender Carles Puyol has had a better tournament than the likes of Messi or Gyan. Ditto for underrated Paraguayan defenders Antolin Alcaraz and Paulo Da Silva. And had Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano not been injured in his side's quarterfinal with Ghana, he almost certainly would have been among the nominees.

Moving further up field, Netherlands holding midfielder Mark Van Bommel has been one of his side's unsung heroes, effectively linking defense to attack, and should be among the 10 players nominated. Such is the fate of those players tasked with doing the dirty work.

Of course, such discussions constitute an academic exercise. Sunday's final will largely determine who will win the award, and the excellence of Sneijder and Villa will make either player a worthy winner. Spain, with forward Fernando Torres struggling, would be nowhere without Villa's five goals. Sneijder, who has five goals of his own, has been just as vital to the Dutch. And after winning three trophies this season with club side Inter Milan, he will attempt to complete a rare quadruple on Sunday.