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)

Who can Premier League clubs draw in Europa League?

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Group winners Arsenal and Manchester United will avoid a loaded batch of seeded teams, while runners-up Wolves can draw a bevy of powerful teams in the Europa League Round of 32.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo can find himself drawn against former club Porto, but also could have to match wits with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, or Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch.

[ MORE: Man Utd pounds AZ ]

Speaking of Marsch, the Salzburg boss could go from meeting Liverpool to squaring off with Steven Gerrard and Rangers.

Gerrard could also, of course, go up against hated playing days’ rival Manchester United.

Seeded teams
Ajax
Arsenal
Basel
Benfica
Braga
Celtic
Espanyol
Gent
Inter Milan
Istanbul Basaksehir
LASK
Malmo
Manchester United
Porto
Red Bull Salzburg
Sevilla

Unseeded teams
APOEL Nicosia
AZ Alkmaar
Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge
Copenhagen
CFR Cluj
Eintracht Frankfurt
Ludogorets Razgrad
Olympiacos
Rangers
Roma
Wolfsburg
Wolves
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sporting Lisbon

Who can Premier League teams draw in the Round of 32?

Arsenal: APOEL Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Manchester United: APOEL Nicosia, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Eintracht Frankfurt, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Wolves: Ajax, Basel, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Inter Milan, Istanbul Basaksehir, LASK, Malmo, Porto, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.