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Monday, Jan. 7, 2013
Messi aims for historic fourth Ballon d'Or prize
GENEVA — Lionel Messi can break another soccer record on Monday by being selected the world's best player for an unprecedented fourth time.
The Barcelona and Argentina forward, who scored 91 goals in 2012, is the favorite to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or prize ahead of club teammate Andres Iniesta and Portuguese rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid.
A fourth straight title would lift Messi above three-time FIFA World Player of the Year 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.
The U.S. gold medal-winning team at the London Olympics could dominate the women's side of the annual awards gala.
Forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan are competing with five-time winner Marta of Brazil for best player, and former coach Pia Sundhage is favored to be selected best coach of a women's team ahead of two male rivals: Norio Sasaki of silver-medalist Japan and Bruno Bini of France.
Wambach, who finished third in the FIFA voting last year, and Morgan seek to become the first American winner since Mia Hamm got the 2002 award. Wambach scored five goals at the Olympics and Morgan got three as the U.S. took its third straight gold medal. Marta's Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Japan.
Sundhage, who has since returned home to coach Sweden's women's national team, is favored after losing out on the award last year to Sasaki after Japan won the Women's World Cup.
Victory for Messi would fuel renewed debate over how his talent 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 led to a third straight major tournament title.
Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA award winner and twice runnerup 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.