Let the Ballon d’Or debate begin

It’s early December, which means it’s time for fans to start debating about who deserves to win this year’s Ballon d’Or, the FIFA World Player of the Year award.

Needless to say, Argentina’s Lionel Messi is on the list. If he wins, he would be the first four-time winner of the award. The Barcelona playmaker has won the past three years. Former Brazilian great Ronaldo and former French World Cup star Zinedine Zidane are the other three-time winners.

The other two 2012 finalists are Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Andres Iniesta of Spain.

“I think they are perfect picks. There is no doubt these players are among the best,” the Brazilian Ronaldo said. “Messi and Ronaldo are really the only ones with a chance of winning, that’s how it’s been recently.”

Messi, 25, was the highest scorer in the European domestic leagues last season, and his 82 goals in 2012 are three short of Gerd Mueller’s record.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored 46 goals for Real Madrid this year. He won the award in 2008. Iniesta finished second to Messi in 2010.

Who do you think is best? Place your vote at The Miami Herald’s soccer blog, Total Futbol, at

The finalists for the women’s Player of the Year award are five-time winner Marta and Americans Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach.

Candidates for the best goal of the year are Radamel Falcao of Colombia, Neymar of Brazil and Miroslav Stoch of Slovakia.

Neymar won for best goal in 2011 goal of the year award. His most spectacular goal for Santos this season came against Internacional on March 7, when he dribbled from midfield through defenders. Falcao had an overhead kick May 19 in Atletico Madrid’s game against America de Cali. Stoch made a curling shot from the edge of the box for Turkish club Fenerbahce on March 3.

The most-talked-about goal of the year is not on the list. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 30-yard overhead bicycle kick for Sweden against England two weeks ago is being called one of the greatest goals in recent memory, but it came too late to make the Goals of the Year ballot. (Note to FIFA: Extend the deadline in the future. It’s silly that a mid-November goal can’t be on the ballot.)


Pressure’s on:

Brazil brought back

Luiz Felipe Scolari

to coach the team through the 2014 World Cup, and he knows better than just about anybody what it means to coach the host team in Brazil. It means they cannot lose. Period. End of story.

“It needs to be clear to all Brazilians: We have the obligation to win the title. We will be playing in front of our fans,” Scolari said. “We are not the favorites right now, but we will work hard to make sure that we are during the tournament.

“A country with five world titles will not play hoping to finish second, third or fourth.”

Scolari led Brazil to a fifth World Cup title in 2002, and has coached at Chelsea and Portugal. He replaces Mano Menezes, who was heavily criticized.

The federation also announced that Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led Brazil to the 1994 World Cup title in the United States, will be the national team’s coordinator. Parreira also coached Brazil in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

“I wish a lot of luck to my friend Parreira and to Felipao,” former Brazil star Romario said. “We know that now we will have the best players picked for the team.”

Added Ronaldo: “I think Brazil has been in a different moment in which we have to do some recycling. I think Brazilian football obviously is not undergoing its best moment. But we can’t forget that Spain has also done something extraordinary both in its national league and its national team involving very beautiful football. So apart from being a very difficult moment in terms of talent for Brazilian football because we have great talent, I think some who are not the big strikers but they do not really call too much attention to them. I think Brazilian football should stop and think about being a main player.”


Copa Sudamericana:

Brazilian club Sao Paulo will face Argentine club Tigre in the two-leg final of the Copa Sudamericana. Sao Paulo beat Chilean club Universidad Catolica in one semifinal and Tigre beat Millonarios of Colombia. The first leg of the final is Dec. 5 in Argentina, and the final leg is Dec. 12 in Brazil.