ANDRES INIESTA (Barcelona - Spain)
The midfield maestro is the only candidate to have won a major international tournament in 2012 (usually part of unofficial criteria to win the accolade along with the Uefa Champions League title). Iniesta has won a World Cup, two European Championships and three Champions League trophies in his career so far but has yet to be named the best player in the world.
His contribution to the Spanish triumph this summer at Euro 2012 cannot be underestimated. Iniesta was crowned player of the tournament by Uefa (a feat he also achieved at the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2008) after three man-of-the-match performances helped Spain to retain their title after also winning Euro 2008. He may not have achieved anything like the goal scoring exploits of his rivals but did once again prove his undoubted class in 2012.
Iniesta was also named the best player of the 2011-12 Champions League season despite Barcelona being knocked-out at the semi-final stage by Chelsea. Surely Spain - with Iniesta their sole representative amongst the three-man shortlist - will finally be recognised for their achievements in the last three major tournaments.
Iniesta in 2012...
Won Euro 2012 with Spain
Euro 2012: Named player of the tournament
Three man-of-the-match awards during Euro 2012
Copa Del Rey (league cup) triumph with Barcelona
CRISTIANO RONALDO (Real Madrid - Portugal)
Ronaldo may not have won a major international tournament in 2012, despite inspiring Portugal to reach the semi-finals at the European Championships in Ukraine and Poland, but in any other year he would be the favourite after producing a strong challenge for the world player of the year accolade.
Ronaldo scored 46 goals for Real Madrid in La Liga (60 in all competitions in 55 games) as Jose Mourinho's side won their first league title since 2008 with the 27-year-old Portuguese star becoming the only player in La Liga history to score 40 goals or more in a season twice.
Ronaldo also achieved the unprecedented feat of scoring against every team in a single season in La Liga. In terms of scoring in key games he delivered like never before for the Spanish giants. Ronaldo became the first player to score in six consecutive El Clasicos, finally overcoming criticism that he did not produce against Barcelona.
Ronaldo ended the season with a league title as well as a Super Cup triumph over Barcelona. Portugal lifting the Euro 2012 trophy may have seen him edge ahead in the betting for the Ballon d'Or winner.
Ronaldo in numbers...
60 goals in 2012 for Real Madrid in just 55 games
46 league goals for Real Madrid in 2011/2012
171 Ronaldo is Real Madrid's seventh all top scorer
LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona - Argentina)
Messi could claim to be the best goalscorer ever after a remarkable year, even by his standards. He broke a 40-year-old record for the most goals in a calendar year - held by Bayern Munich and Germany goal machine Gerd Muller - finishing with an astonishing 91. The Argentine scored 79 times for his club in 2012 surpassing his total of 55 in 2011. In March he became the only player to score 5 goals in a single Champions League match as the Spanish giants thrashed Bayer Leverkusen 7-1. Messi at 24 became the youngest player ever to pass the 50-goal mark in the Champions League as well becoming the record scorer in the elite competition's knockout stage with 26 goals. He also dispelled the myth he does not produce for Argentina by scoring 12 goals in 2012 for his national team which included a brilliant hat-trick against Brazil in a 4-3 win.
Messi has been recognised as the world's best player for the past three years. He received the Fifa Ballon d'Or award in 2011 and 2010 and the Fifa World Player of the Year award in 2009 (which was merged with the Ballon d'Or the following year). In terms of titles won 2012 was not great for the diminutive forward. Barcelona failed to win their fourth La Liga title under Pep Guardiola as Jose Mourinho led Real Madrid to the domestic title. Chelsea knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage. A Spanish Cup victory was the only trophy Messi could add to his collection.
Messi in numbers...
91 Barcelona player scored 91 times for Barcelona and Argentina in 2012
73 Messi scored 73 goals for Barcelona in 2011-2012 season
29 As well as his goalscoring exploits, Messi produced 29 assists in 2012
79 He scored 79 goals for his club in 2012.
12 He managed 12 goals for Argentina in 2012 in just nine games.
9 Messi scored nine hat-tricks last calendar year, seven for Barcelona and two for Argentina.
50 In May 2012 Messi achieved the unprecedented feat of scoring 50 goals in a league season.
14 Messi scored 14 goals in 2011-2012 Uefa Champions League season.
2 Messi is the only player to score two hat-tricks in a Uefa Champions League season (2011-12).
5 Messi is the only player to have scored 5 goals in a single match in the Champions League era.