Johannesburg - Just over a year ago, the football world turned its attention to Switzerland, where the 2015 Fifa Ballon d’Or was awarded to Lionel Messi at a glittering gala in the Zurich Congress Hall.
A year later, football’s controlling body will again hand out its annual award in Switzerland, but this time around in a much more low-key event, as Fifa attempts to recover from a year that left the organisation battered and bruised.
The French magazine France Football no longer acts as co-organiser and has resumed its own award, as it did before 2010.
The venue for this year’s ceremony is a far cry from the luxurious Congress Hall and there have been media reports that some of the finalists will not even attend the ceremony.
Regardless of the above, the Best Fifa Awards, which will be announced on Monday, are bound to attract attention as Messi and his nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, go head-to-head as they have done continuously since 2008, finishing first or second in all but one of the 11 awards that were handed out since then.
The only gatecrasher was Spaniard Andrés Iniesta, who finished second in 2010 on the back of La Roja’s World Cup win in South Africa.
At the end of last year, Ronaldo had already won France Football’s Ballon d’Or and he is the hands-down favourite to add the Fifa award to his ever-growing number of personal accolades.
Ronaldo and Messi are joined on the three-player short-list by French international Antoine Griezmann.
Notwithstanding his excellent contribution to France’s run into the final of the 2016 Euros and his club side Atlético Madrid making the Champions League final, anything but a distant third place for him would be a huge surprise.
Only Ronaldo, but Messi is the best
Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who is one of the three finalists for the coach award, said he was certain Ronaldo would win.
“I am convinced that Cristiano was the best player of 2016 because of all the things he won: the Uefa Champions League, which he’s already won a few times, and the Euro, a title that has evaded a lot of great players.
“He’s got it now, and he also picked up a number of individual awards throughout the year. There’s no doubt in my mind that he has to win it, or that he will actually go on and do so.”
Messi’s Argentina team-mate Sergio Agüero, does not agree with Santos though.
“He [Messi] is ahead of the rest, including the other nominees. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my friend. I train with him and I see it with my own eyes.
"He does things I don’t see anyone else doing. He’s the best there is.”
Santos, who guided Portugal to success at the Euros, will be challenged for the coach award by Leicester City’s Italian coach, Claudio Ranieri, and Zinedine Zidane, who won the Champions League with Real Madrid.
The former French international is hoping to become the first person to win both the global awards for player and coach.
The Puskas award for the best goal, as well as the best female player and women’s coach, will also be announced on Monday.
Five-time winner Marta is one of the finalists for the women’s award, together with Germany’s Olympic gold medallist Melanie Behringer, as well as last year’s winner Carli Lloyd of the US.
The women’s coach finalists are: Former Germany coach Silvia Neid; Jill Ellis, who won the World Cup with the US in 2015 and Pia Sundhage, who took Sweden to the Olympic final.
The Puskas award contenders are Marlone, Daniuska Rodríguez and Mohd Faiz Subri.
Marlone scored for Corinthians with an acrobatic bicycle kick in a Copa Libertadores match, while Venezuela’s 17-year-old Rodríguez mesmerised two defenders before scoring in a game at the South American Under-17 championship. Subri, meanwhile, scored with a spectacular swerving free kick for Malaysian club FA Penang.