Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery to battle it out for Ballon d’Or

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The worst kept secret in the global game is out, now there’s just one more decision to make. It’s a big one.

On Monday FIFA released its three player shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award, which crowns the World Player of the Year.

Predictably, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery are the three finalists for the prestigious award that will be handed out in Zurich on January 13, 2014 to honor the best player in the last year.

Messi has won the Ballon d’Or award the last two years after it was re-branded and also has four consecutive World Player of the Year awards overall. But this season with his lengthy spells out through injury and Ronaldo’s sublime campaign it is the Portuguese attacker who many expect to claim the top individual honor in the game.

For Real Madrid and Portugal this season Ronaldo has already bagged 32 goals in just 22 games and is at the peak of his power. Messi has still scored 14 in 14 appearances but he is expected to finish a close second behind Ronaldo. And as for Ribery, the French midfielder has already come out to say he deserves to win the award but no matter how pivotal he was in Bayern Munich’s incredible campaign in 2012-13 when they won the Champions League and every domestic title in Germany, you simply can;t say he stands above Messi and Ronaldo on individual talent.

FIFA caused controversy when they reopened the ballot for this Ballon d’Or vote following Ronaldo’s sublime display in the World Cup qualifying playoffs when he scored all four of Portugal’s goals against Sweden to send them through to the World Cup. That angered many Messi fans as they duel between Real Madrid and Barcelona’s star attractions heats up on and off the field.

We’re witnessing two of world soccer’s greatest every players battle it out at the same time, that’s something we should cherish. But there can only be one winner.

Also, for fans of U.S. soccer Abby Wambach is once again nominated in the final three for the women’s award as the USWNT veteran striker continues to grow her legendary status across the world. Wambach is joined by Brazilian striker Marta and Germany’s Nadine Angerer.

FIFA’s glitzy award ceremony will take place in Zurich in January and here are the full list of nominees for each category, plus the FIFA Pro team of the year will also be announced.

Fifa Men’s Player of the Year:

Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Franck Ribery (France)

Fifa Women’s Player of the Year:

Nadine Angerer (Germany)
Marta (Brazil)
Abby Wambach (USA)

Fifa World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football:

Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United former coach)
Jupp Heynckes (FC Bayern Munich former coach)
Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund)

Fifa World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football:

Ralf Kellermann (VfL Wolfsburg)
Silvia Neid (German national team)
Pia Sundhage (Sweden/Swedish national team)

Ferenc Puskas Award for most beautiful goal:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden v England in November 2012)
Nemanja Matic (Benfica v Porto, Liga in January 2013)
Neymar (Brazil v Japan in June 2013)

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”

 

 

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Napoli, Celtic, Sevilla in action

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Five more UEFA Champions League playoff first leg games take place on Wednesday after Liverpool, CSKA Moscow, APOEL and Qarabag all recorded wins on Tuesday to take them one step closer to the UCL group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic host Kazakhstan’s Astana at Celtic Park hoping for a big first leg lead with the Scottish champs aiming to make the UCL group stage for the second-straight season under former Liverpool boss Rodgers.

A tasty clash at the Stadio San Paolo sees Napolo host Nice in what is the best tie in the UCL playoff round. Can Lorenzo Insigne down Mario Balotelli and Co.?

Elsewhere Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir have the likes of Gael Clichy, Gokhan Inler and Emmanuel Adebayor as they try to upset Sevilla, while Greek giants Olympiacos host Croatia’s Rijeka, Israeli champs Hapoel Be’er Sheva do battle with Slovenian champs Maribor.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all five matches.


Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff first legs

Napoli vs. Nice
Cetlic vs. Astana
Olympiacos vs. Rijeka
Istanbul Basaksehir vs. Sevilla
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Maribor

SERIE A 2017-18: 5 key players signed in the off season

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ROME (AP) Here’s a look at five offseason signings to watch in the upcoming Serie A season:

LEONARDO BONUCCI

Considered Italy’s top defender – which is saying a lot for a nation that prides itself on its great defenders – Bonucci’s transfer from Juventus to AC Milan could alter the balance of power in Serie A.

While Bonucci clashed often with Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri last season, his decision to leave the six-time defending champion was still surprising.

The 30-year-old Bonucci brings leadership qualities and will allow Milan coach Vincenzo Montella to employ a three-man defense that promotes the center back’s excellent passing skills.

Bonucci’s transfer fee topped 40 million euros ($45 million), and he signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Milan won the last of its 18 Serie A titles in 2011 – just before Juventus’ current reign started.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI

One of Italy’s top young players, the 23-year-old winger will provide a new attacking dimension for Juventus following a move from Fiorentina.

Also capable as a playmaker, there was pressure for Bernardeschi to take the No. 10 shirt that Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero wore at Juventus. Bernardeschi cautiously chose No. 33 instead, saying he needs to show that he “deserves” No. 10 in the future.

Juventus paid a transfer fee of 40 million euros ($45 million) for Bernardeschi and signed him to a five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

BORJA VALERO

Another Fiorentina export, this Spanish passing wizard could provide Inter Milan with the touch of class that it lacked during a tumultuous campaign last season that included four managerial changes.

At 32, Valero has long been overlooked by Spain’s national team but he was a fan favorite at Fiorentina.

The bald-headed midfielder’s vision on the pitch can be compared to Andrea Pirlo’s skills, although he’s not as precise on free kicks as the former Italy international.

ANDRE SILVA

Cristiano Ronaldo’s wingman with Portugal, the 21-year-old Silva has been compared to a young Fernando Torres, the former Spain striker currently playing for Atletico Madrid.

At AC Milan, the tall forward should be a constant danger on set pieces inside the area.

Silva has already scored eight goals in just 13 matches for his national team.

He also scored 21 times in 44 matches for FC Porto last season, before joining Milan in a transfer that cost 38 million euros ($42.5 million).

MATTIA DE SCIGLIO

Mattia De Sciglio’s transfer from AC Milan was not greeted with too much enthusiasm by Juventus fans.

The fullback was brought in as a replacement for Dani Alves, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain, and supporters believe it’s a downgrade.

But De Sciglio is reliable at either right or left back and is still developing at 24 years old – even though he made his Serie A debut at 18.

It will be interesting to see if De Sciglio can prove the doubters wrong, and if he can fit into Massimiliano Allegri’s preferred three-man defense.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Spanish federation maintains five-match ban for Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation has ratified its decision to suspend Cristiano Ronaldo for five matches.

The Real Madrid forward will miss the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona. Madrid holds a 3-1 advantage.

He will also miss the first four matches of the Spanish league, which Madrid opens on Sunday at Deportivo La Coruna.

Ronaldo was suspended for one match after being sent off during Sunday’s first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Spanish media reports said Madrid appealed Ronaldo’s second yellow card, when the Portugal forward was booked for diving.

Ronaldo was given an additional four-match ban for shoving the referee in the back after he was shown the red card.