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Stoppage Time: Franck Ribery's Ballon d'Or endorsement
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The signature moment in the soccer world in 2013 was undoubtedly the hat trick scored by Cristiano Ronaldo in the second leg of Portugal's 3-2 World Cup playoff win over Sweden.
The victory secured a place in the World Cup for Portugal and it was the kind of virtuoso performance that only a player of Ronaldo's caliber can produce.
In 2013 the Portuguese star netted 60 goals for club and country, while his rival, Barcelona's Lionel Messi, battled injury problems and finished the year with 41 goals.
Messi has been named the Ballon d'Or winner for the world's best player in each of the past four years, and the award has become an annual battle between the two La Liga stars, with the humble Barcelona man accepting the honor while Ronaldo sulks away, bested once more by the diminutive Argentine.
This year there is no doubt that Ronaldo has gotten the better of Messi, and FIFA even appears to be attempting to help him by extending the deadline for Ballon d'Or votes to include the World Cup playoff, where Ronaldo shined against Sweden with four goals over the two legs.
But this time the Ballon d'Or is more than just the usual two-horse race.
Instead of Messi, Ronaldo must now worry about Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, who is poised to break the monopoly that Messi and Ronaldo have on the award.
The last player not named Messi or Ronaldo to win the honor was AC Milan midfielder Kaka in 2007. But after a year in which Ribery propelled Bayern Munich to a historic treble while also helping France qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the Bayern man should become the first player in the Bundesliga to hold the title of world's best player.
When compared with Ronaldo's 60 goals or Messi's 41, Ribery's total of 23 pales in comparison.
However, the Frenchman plays a different game from the other two pure scorers, providing a much bigger defensive presence while also setting up 22 goals, compared to 14 for Messi and Ronaldo's total of 13 assists.
Ribery is more of a facilitator, providing width for a balanced attack while also proving to be a genuine scoring threat.
When Bayern is in top form, it is generally Ribery who is the catalyst, as he showed again this past weekend.
In a 7-0 destruction of Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, Ribery netted two goals and provided two assists as he took the game over to lead Bayern to another three points.
"He is a synonym for everything we embody right now," Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness told German daily Die Welt.
"Franck is an unbelievable player. There is no other player in the world who deserves it [the Ballon d'Or] more."
The opinion of Hoeness may carry with it a bit of bias, but what Bayern embodies right now is the most dominant team in Europe, with Ribery at the heart of things.
Messi walked away from 2013 with a league title, a few injuries, and a humbling exit at the hands of Ribery's Bayern in the semifinals of the Champions League as the Spanish side was bounced 7-0 over the course of two legs.
Ronaldo scored plenty of goals, provided Real Madrid fans with a lot of excitement, but in the end, walked away without a single piece of silverware.
Madrid finished second in the league to Barcelona, lost in the final of the Copa del Rey and was knocked out in the semifinals of the Champions League by Borussia Dortmund.
So despite an outstanding individual campaign, Ronaldo came away empty-handed, and should again in Zurich next month when the Ballon d'Or is handed out.
Ribery, in contrast, lifted his side to the Bundesliga, Champions League and Pokal Cup crowns.
And he has helped new manager Pep Guardiola get off to a great start in the Bundesliga this season as Bayern is unbeaten in its first 15 league games and appears to be well on its way to another league title.
Ribery has already notched six goals and seven assists in 12 league matches this term, and he came up big when it mattered most by having a hand in both of Bayern's goals in the Champions League final, which the team won 2-1 over Dortmund.
Ronaldo may have the flashier stats, but Ribery is the one with a cabinet full of trophies.
And for that reason he should have another to add to his collection on Jan. 13.
12/09 16:42:13 ET
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