Opinions divided, but Ronaldo is favourite for Ballon d'Or
It is like choosing between truffles and caviar.
That's the view of Portugal great Luis Figo when it comes to picking the winner of the Fifa Ballon d'Or winner for 2014.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the favourite to win the prestigious award for the second year in a row at a gala ceremony in Zurich tomorrow morning (Singapore time), ahead of Barcelona striker Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Opinions remain divided as to who was the standout player last year and, although many have pledged their support for German custodian Neuer, former Real Madrid star Figo believes it is his Portuguese compatriot who deserves to win.
"It's hard to choose between truffles and caviar," he said, referring to the two hot favourites Ronaldo and Messi.
"But, for me, it has to be Cristiano. He's had a fantastic year all the way through for Real."
A disappointing World Cup, in which he was eliminated at the group stage with Portugal, has not prevented Ronaldo from staking a strong claim to win the prize for a third time overall.
The 29-year-old Real superstar scored a remarkable 61 goals in the calendar year, as he helped his club win the Champions League, Copa del Rey and Uefa Super Cup, before ending 2014 by securing the Club World Cup.
Ronaldo scored a record 17 goals in last season's Champions League and has already netted a phenomenal 26 goals in 16 La Liga games this season.
Unsurprisingly, he has received fierce support from his club, who feel that Ronaldo would be the only worthy winner of the prize.
The Spanish club also felt compelled to publicly criticise Uefa president Michel Platini for his suggestion that Neuer should take the award.
Platini said last November that a German should win the award following their World Cup triumph, saying: "I already said it four years ago. A Spaniard should have won it then because Spain had won the World Cup (in 2010). This year, it is Germany."
In response, Real expressed "surprise at (Platini's) repeated remarks regarding his personal preferences for who should win the Ballon d'Or", and added that Ronaldo was "deserving more than ever of winning the Ballon d'Or".
Messi has finished in the top two in each of the last seven years but, despite another prolific year in 2014, appears to be lagging behind his two rivals this time round.
Despite the fact that he scored 58 goals in 66 games for club and country in 2014, Messi's candidature is not helped by the fact that he failed to win a trophy with Barcelona last season.
And, while he captained Argentina to the World Cup final, the 27-year-old failed to perform to his usual sky-high standards in the knockout stage in Brazil, even if he came away with the Golden Ball award for the tournament's best player.
On the other hand, Neuer - the only one of six German World Cup winners on the initial shortlist to make the final three - makes a good case to become the first goalkeeper to take the prize since Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union in 1963, and the first German since Lothar Matthaeus in 1990, the year West Germany lifted the World Cup in Italy.
After helping Pep Guardiola's Bayern win a domestic double in Germany, Neuer, 28, was outstanding in his country's run to World Cup glory, as they beat Argentina 1-0 after extra-time in the final at the Maracana.
Diego Maradona and 2004 winner Andriy Shevchenko have given Neuer their backing, while Germany coach Joachim Loew told Bild: "Any other choice than Neuer will disappoint me."
However, Neuer himself is remaining cautious after his club colleague Franck Ribery went away disappointed at last year's ceremony.
"I'm certainly not the favourite," said Neuer.
"The other two (Ronaldo and Messi) are international brands, they've clearly got an advantage." - Wire Services.
ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO’S TAKE:
"A lot has been said about the concept of 'the modern player'. Well, Cristiano Ronaldo is not just modern but also of the future.
"Lionel Messi is the real deal when it comes to No. 10s. He represents a type of football that transcends borders.
"As for Manuel Neuer, he's given us a new way of interpreting the role of a goalkeeper... not only is he very good with his feet, he also brings more mobility to his team.
"I'll chance a prediction and say the winner will be Neuer."