Lionel Messi aims for historic 4th world player award

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi can break another footballing record on Monday by being named the world's best player for an unprecedented fourth time.

The Barcelona and Argentina forward, who scored 91 goals in 2012, is favorite to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or prize ahead of club teammate Andres Iniesta and his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, who complete the three-man shortlist in Zurich.

A fourth straight title would lift Messi above FIFA World Player of the Year three-time winners Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo of Brazil. Since the original Ballon d'Or was launched in 1956 as a European award, Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten also earned a hat-trick of titles.

Victory for Messi would fuel renewed debate over how his genius compares with Pele and Diego Maradona, whose careers were over or peaked before FIFA started its award in 1991. The South American greats were never eligible for the old Ballon d'Or run by France Football magazine. The awards merged in 2010.

"(Michael) Jordan dominated his sport and Messi dominates this one,'' former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said last year, in comparing his protege to the basketball icon.

Iniesta starred at the European Championship last summer as Spain's relentless passing game won a third straight major tournament title.

Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA award winner and twice runner-up to Messi, impressed with prolific scoring to help Madrid take away Barcelona's Spanish league title, then carried Portugal to the Euro 2012 semifinals.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is a candidate for the men's coaching award, along with the Madrid-Barcelona duo of Jose Mourinho and Guardiola, who left the Catalan club in May.

The United States' gold medal-winning team at the London Olympics could dominate the women's awards at FIFA's annual gala ceremony.

Forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan are competing with five-time winner Marta of Brazil, and former coach Pia Sundhage is favored to be named best coach of a women's team ahead of two male rivals: Norio Sasaki of silver-medalist Japan and Bruno Bini of France.

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