Iniesta, Xavi, Messi nominated for FIFA award

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Iniesta, Xavi, Messi nominated for FIFA award

PARIS - Barcelona players Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi were the three nominees Monday for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award for world player of the year. Midfielders Iniesta and Xavi helped Spain win its first World Cup, while Argentina forward Messi led Barcelona to another Spanish title.

Messi won the Ballon d’Or, or Golden Ball, award last year when France Football magazine chose him as the best player in Europe. The Golden Ball is being merged this year for the first time with FIFA’s player of the year award to create one trophy.

“It’s an honor to be among the three finalists for the Ballon d’Or, even more so since it’s alongside Xavi and Leo,’’ Iniesta wrote on Facebook.

The inaugural coach of the year award is between Jose Mourinho - who won the Champions League and the domestic League and Cup double with Inter Milan - Spain’s Vicente del Bosque and Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola.

“Barca have made history with three homegrown players in the top three spots,’’ the club said on its Web site.

AC Milan had all three players on the Golden Ball podium in successive years, but they didn’t come through the youth ranks. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were 1-2-3 in 1988; followed by Van Basten, Franco Baresi and Rijkaard in 1989. Baresi joined Milan when he was 17, while the Dutch trio of Van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit were all imports.

The Spanish league had all three podium spots last year, with Messi winning and Xavi third while Real Madrid’s Portugal winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, took second place. The winners will be announced on Jan. 10.

“Barcelona are dominating the Spanish league at the moment,’’ FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said. “Not only is Spanish football dominating but Barcelona is as well. Spanish football has been ahead since 2008.’’

Iniesta scored the winning goal against the Netherlands in this year’s World Cup final, settling a tense and sometimes brutal match, 1-0. He collected a cushioned pass from Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas and finished with a shot into the opposite corner just minutes from the end of extra time to avoid a penalty shootout.

Xavi was arguably Spain’s best player at the tourney, linking superbly with Iniesta in a midfield that prided itself on one-touch passing coupled with exceptional movement off the ball. Spain fielded a similar midfield when it won the European Championship two years ago, with several Barcelona players in both teams.

Messi was a disappointment at the World Cup, failing to replicate his club form. He did not manage a goal in South Africa, having scored 34 league goals heading into the tournament. Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarterfinals. But Messi has continued his rich vein of form for Barcelona this season and already has 15 league goals in 12 games.

“I think Leo deserves it, he’s the best. But I also think they all deserve it for everything they did this year,’’ Guardiola said.

Guardiola’s Barcelona is widely recognized as the benchmark for slick, attacking football.

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