Thursday, October 12, 2006

FIFA World Player Gala 2006: Preliminary lists revealed

Each year, autumn brings with it the launch of the annual awards. This time, the much-coveted title of FIFA World Player of the Year will be awarded on 18 December in Zurich, but before deciding on the winners in the male and female categories, FIFA's experts have produced preliminary lists of 20 women and 30 men. Here, reveals them exclusively for you.

In this FIFA World Cup™ year, the voting for the FIFA World Player will no doubt be influenced by the performances of the key players at the showcase event. As they seek to narrow down their choice to the final trio, national coaches and captains are bound to cast their minds back to the matches at Germany 2006. Their selections will be guided by the lists produced by the FIFA experts: namely the members of FIFA's women's football and women's competitions' committees and other FIFA bodies, who have pre-selected the 20 women, and those of the FIFA Technical and Development Committee, who have picked out the 30 men.

Among the guys, Ronaldinho, winner of this award on the last two occasions, will have the opportunity to defend his title. But while there were seven Brazilians last year, there are only three this time: the Barcelona man, Adriano and Kaka.

Conversely, the French and Italian contingents have swollen to five players apiece. Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo for the Azzurri, Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane for Les Bleus. Such healthy representation is logical enough, as these two teams reached the Final in Germany.

Just behind them come the German semi-finalists with four players: Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm and Jens Lehmann.

Defenders to steal the limelight?
It is worth noting that of this list of 30 players, only Zidane and Ronaldinho have already lifted the FIFA World Player award.

That said, Thierry Henry is also a familiar figure at the event, having finished on the podium in 2003 and 2004, while Andriy Shevchenko (2004), Frank Lampard (2005) and Samuel Eto'o (2005) have also previously come close to the ultimate individual accolade. Moreover, the Arsenal man is the only one of the 30 to have reached the finals of the season's two top events, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup.

The most heavily represented club is Chelsea with six nominees, while Barcelona and AC Milan boast four players apiece. One of the most striking statistics is the presence of four out-and-out defenders, three goalkeepers and three defensively-minded midfielders. The title has never been given to a rearguard player, with only Paolo Maldini (1995), Roberto Carlos (1997) and Oliver Kahn (2002) ever making it onto the rostrum. Could the forward players' domination be brought to an end this year? The coaches and captains will decide on 18 December.

Among the girls, 20 players have been selected, but the big surprise is surely the absence of two giants of women's football, Germany's Birgit Prinz and the Swede Hanna Ljungberg. The candidates come from 15 different countries, which proves that the number of top-level teams continues to grow. Two Germans figure on the list: the midfielder Renate Lingor and goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg.

France, Sweden, China PR and the USA all provide two players apiece, while Scandinavia is particularly well represented with Laura Kalmari (Finland), Malin Mostrom and Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Cathrine Paaske Sorensen (Denmark) and Ingvild Stenland (Norway).

Half of the pre-selected players are European. Chinese stars Han Duan and Ma Xiaoxu (winner of the adidas Golden Shoe and Golden Ball awards at Russia 2006) and the North Korean Ri Kum Suk represent Asia, while the hopes of Africa are carried by Nigerian striker Cynthia Uwak, who was in excellent form at the recent FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship in Russia.

Americans Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach, Brazil's irrepressible Marta and the Mexican Monica Ocampo are also in the mix and will all have high hopes of making the cut come December. The three nominees in each of the categories will be revealed in late November/early December, when the national coaches and team captains cast their votes.