(CNN) -- Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu after he was pitted against chief rival Lionel Messi of Barcelona in the race for football's prestigious Ballon d'Or.
The pair will go up against Messi's Spanish teammate Andres Iniesta after the original shortlist was whittled down from 23 to three.
The trophy will be presented in Zurich on January 7 following votes from journalists, national team captains and coaches.
Messi, the darling of the football world, has won the top accolade on the previous three occasions and could become the first man to win the prize four times.
While Real Madrid star Ronaldo amassed an astonishing 46 goals in La Liga last year, Messi scaled unprecedented heights by finishing with 50 goals in the league alone.
The 25-year-old is now chasing Gerd Muller's all-time record of 85 goals in a calendar year, which the former Bayern Munich and Germany striker set back in 1972.
Messi needs just four more strikes to surpass Muller's record and rewrite yet another chapter of European football.
But Portugal's Ronaldo, who won the prize in 2008, enjoyed an outstanding year, firing Real to the La Liga title under new manager Jose Mourinho.
Iniesta, 28, has wowed fans with his mesmerizing skills while playing alongside the talented Xavi for both Barcelona and Spain.
The diminutive midfielder, who has won two European Championship Finals and a World Cup, is one of the most pleasing to watch in the game.
Like Messi, he has also won five La Liga titles as well as three Champions League successes.
Both Iniesta and Ronaldo will start as underdogs in the final voting process, which also has a category for Coach of the Year.
Spain's national manager, Vicente Del Bosque, is one of the final three candidates after leading his country to victory at Euro 2012.
Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is also nominated, while Real Madrid's Mourinho, who steered his side to the La Liga title last season, completes the list.
Best player - men: Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona/Spain)
Best player - women: Marta (Brazil), Aby Wambach, Alex Morgan (both United States of America)
Best men's coach: Vicente del Bosque (Spain), Pep Guardiola (ex-Barcelona), Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid)
Best women's coach: Bruno Bini (France), Norio Sasaki (Japan), Pia Sundhage (Sweden)
Most beautiful goal of the year: Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid/Colombia), Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce/Slovakia), Neymar (Brazil/Santos)