Messi heads 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or shortlist

    Story highlights

    • Football's ruling body unveils the shortlist for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or award
    • Barcelona's Lionel Messi won the trophy in 2010 and is nominated again this year
    • The award will be handed out at a FIFA Ballon d'Or gala on January 9
    European and Spanish champions Barcelona dominate the shortlist for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or, the award given to the world's best footballer.
    Football's global governing body announced a 23-man shortlist for the award on Tuesday, with eight members of Josep Guardiola's Barca squad in the running for the prestigious prize.
    The award is a combination of the FIFA World Player of the Year accolade and France Football Magazine's Ballon d'Or, with the new incarnation of the honor awarded for the first time in 2010.
    Barcelona's Argentina star Lionel Messi was the inaugural winner, and he has again been nominated along with clubmates Eric Abidal, Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Xavi, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas, who signed from English club Arsenal in August.
    Barca's Spanish rivals Real Madrid earned five nominations, including 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.
    Brazil striker Neymar, 19, is the only nominee not based in Europe, having decided to stay with Santos despite being linked with several top overseas clubs.
    Former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o, who this season left Italy's Inter Milan for Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia, is the only African player on the shortlist.
    The winner of the 2011 prize, along with the awards for the world's best female player and the finest male and female coaches, will be handed out at the second annual FIFA Ballon d'Or gala on January 9.
    2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or shortlist:
    Eric Abidal (France), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Xabi Alonso (Spain), Dani Alves (Brazil), Karim Benzema (France), Iker Casillas (Spain), Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Thomas Muller (Germany), Nani (Portugal), Neymar (Brazil), Mesut Ozil (Germany), Gerard Pique (Spain), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Wayne Rooney (England), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands), Luis Suarez (Uruguay) David Villa (Spain), Xavi (Spain).