Ballon d'Or to crown annus mirabilis for maestro Messi
LIONEL MESSI is set to win a fourth Ballon d'Or tonight, making him the most decorated player in history.
The Barcelona forward is up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta for the award, which is presented in Zurich.
The European Ballon d'Or – whose last winner was Messi in 2009 – merged with the Fifa World Player of the Year award in 2010 to become the Fifa Ballon d'Or, which the 25-year-old Argentine has won twice so far.
Messi broke Gerd Müller's 40-year-old record last month for the most goals in a calendar year, with 91 in all competitions. But he believes the form of his team-mate Iniesta, who finished behind him in 2010, warrants the award.
Ronaldo, who won the Ballon d'Or in 2008, admitted he would love to win the 2012 award. "If I win, perfect; if I don't, never mind, life goes on. But, obviously, I'd love to win.
"I'm not going to lie or be hypocritical," said the 27-year-old Real Madrid forward.
"Fair or unfair, the decision will be what it will be. I'll be very happy maybe or very sad. But that's life."
Messi was on the scoresheet once again last night as Barca welcomed Tito Vilanova back with the minimum of fuss as his side got all of their work done inside the first 30 minutes of the Catalan derby – beating Espanyol 4-0.
Manager Vilanova, back at the helm after a brief spell out for surgery on his parotid gland after contracting cancer for the second time, was given the easiest of nights as his stellar cast of players made life comfortable for him.
They had scored all of their goals by the time the 30th minute ticked by and after that it was procession football, with Pedro twice denied a hat-trick by the offside flag, while other chances also passed.
After Xavi had opened the scoring, Pedro then chimed in with his brace before Messi set off on his pursuit of 100 goals this year with a penalty.
The Argentinian's only regret will be that he did not make the most of the leisurely second-half conditions.
Ronaldo scored twice to earn 10-man Real Madrid a 4-3 win over Real Sociedad after goalkeeper Antonio Adan was sent off in the sixth minute, but they remained 16 points adrift of Barcelona.
For the second game in a row Jose Mourinho courted controversy by dropping captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas to the bench, but the Spain international was soon in action at the Bernabeu after Adan was shown a straight red card.
Despite going behind to Xabi Prieto's penalty, Sami Khedira and Ronaldo led their team back to secure a morale-boosting victory for Madrid who extended their lead over Malaga in third, after the southern club slipped to a shock 1-0 defeat to Deportivo La Coruna.