Messi appears as the favourite to add another individual award to his collection after leading Argentina to World Cup glory
France’s Kylian Mbappe (left) gestures towards Argentina’s Lionel Messi during the World Cup final in Lusail, north of Doha, on December 18. — AFP
Just like in the World Cup final, Paris Saint-Germain teammates Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe go up against one another for The Best Fifa Men’s Player prize for 2022 on Monday, with Ballon d’Or Karim Benzema the other contender.
The ceremony takes place in Paris, and Messi appears as the favourite to add another individual gong to his collection after leading Argentina to glory over Mbappe’s France in that epic encounter in Qatar.
Messi has won the Ballon d’Or seven times and claimed the Fifa award — inaugurated in 2016 following Fifa’s split with Ballon d’Or organisers France Football — once in 2019.
In the last two years Messi has made the podium as Robert Lewandowski has won the title, but the 35-year-old’s career-crowning World Cup triumph was the defining moment of 2022.
The winner is decided by a jury comprised of the coach and captain of every men’s national team and one journalist from each country, but fans can also vote.
Mbappe became the first player to score a World Cup final hat trick since Geoff Hurst in 1966 as he dragged France to a 3-3 draw after extra time — despite two goals by Messi — before they eventually succumbed in a shoot-out.
Mbappe, who turned 24 just after the final, was the tournament’s top scorer with eight goals, one more than Messi, who claimed the Golden Ball for best player.
He was also comfortably PSG’s most important player in the year leading up to the World Cup, despite being joined there by Messi — he was Ligue 1’s leading scorer and France’s player of the year.
However, their World Cup achievements overshadow everything else.
“Because Messi won the World Cup he has the biggest chance of winning, that’s a fact,” admitted Ruud Gullit, himself a former Ballon d’Or winner.
Dutchman Gullit was speaking in his role as a member of the Laureus Academy, which recently included Mbappe and Messi among the nominees for their own awards.
“But I have so much respect for Mbappe. For me he is on the same level. What he did in the final, to take that responsibility was unbelievable,” he added.
Benzema’s chances of winning another individual honour were hit after he missed the World Cup due to injury.
Exiled from the French team for five and a half years because of his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sextape involving a former teammate, Benzema’s Ballon d’Or win last October had completed his own career redemption.
The Real Madrid striker, now 35, scored 44 goals in 46 games for his club last season, inspiring them to glory in the Champions League and La Liga.
He has continued to bang in the goals this season.
“I am really, really proud of my journey,” he declared after claiming the Ballon d’Or.
Current Ballon d’Or Alexia Putellas, who won the Best award last year, is again nominated for the women’s prize, despite being out since July with a knee injury.
England forward Beth Mead and US star Alex Morgan are the other finalists.
Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni is up for the men’s coach’s honour along with Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.
Sarina Wiegman, who won Euro 2022 with England, is up for the women’s coach award with Sonia Bompastor of Lyon and Brazil’s Pia Sundhage.
Brazil star Richarlison’s World Cup strike against Serbia is one of three nominees for the Puskas Award for best goal, named after Hungary great Ferenc Puskas.
Marseille’s Dimitri Payet and Polish amputee player Marcin Oleksy are also nominated, while there is also a category for the best male and female goalkeeper.
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