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Ballon d'Or U-turn puts Ronaldo in driving seat

November 20, 2013 -- Updated 2356 GMT (0756 HKT)
The Portuguese could be officially named the world's best footballer for the first time since 2008 after a stunning year in which he has scored 66 goals in 55 games. He finished top scorer in last season's Champions League and has plundered 32 goals from his opening 20 games of the new term. The Portuguese could be officially named the world's best footballer for the first time since 2008 after a stunning year in which he has scored 66 goals in 55 games. He finished top scorer in last season's Champions League and has plundered 32 goals from his opening 20 games of the new term.
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Cristiano Ronaldo
Lionel Messi
Franck Ribery
Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Neymar
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FIFA surprisingly extend voting for Ballon d'Or by two weeks
  • New deadline means Ronaldo's World Cup hat-trick can now be taken into account
  • Franck Ribery had been favorite to win award for various critics prior to unexpected change

(CNN) -- First he mocked him, then he praised him and now FIFA President Sepp Blatter has handed Cristiano Ronaldo his best chance of winning his second World Footballer of the Year award.

For in an unexpected move, the world governing body extended the deadline for national team coaches and captains, as well as participating journalists, to vote for their top three players of 2013.

The initial date had been last Friday, just hours after the first legs of the European play-offs had ended, but the closing date to vote for this year's Ballon d'Or winner is now November 29.

Read: Ronaldo hat-trick fires Portugal to World Cup

The reason given for the delay has been the 'low turnout of votes' so far.

With Lionel Messi, who has won the last four crowns, out injured, Ronaldo will never have a better chance to impress a panel for an award where form at voting time often counts as much as previous exploits in the year.

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Fresh from his stunning hat-trick which fired Portugal to the World Cup when eliminating Sweden 4-2 on aggregate (with Ronaldo scoring all his nation's goals in the tie), the Real Madrid star may begin to feel that his recent row with FIFA is beginning to turn his way.

Last month, Blatter was involved in an extraordinary impersonation of the Portuguese star while addressing the famous Oxford Union in England, during which he claimed Ronaldo spent "a lot more at the hairdresser's" than his Barcelona rival Messi.

Ronaldo swiftly hit back, writing on his Facebook page how the video showed "the respect and consideration that FIFA has for me, my club and my country. Much is explained now."

Read: Ronaldo criticizes Blatter's behavior

On Tuesday night, Blatter -- who has been watching his words carefully since -- was effusive in his praise for the former Manchester United player's match-winning display in Sweden.

"Fantastic performance by @Cristiano," the Swiss tweeted.

Hours later, it was announced that the voting had been extended, meaning Ronaldo's stunning Solna display can now be taken into account.

Quite what France international Franck Ribery makes of it all is anyone's guess, with the Bayern Munich star having been tipped to win the award when voting was thought to have ended last week.

He is now behind the Portuguese in the running according to widespread opinion, as is Messi -- with the Argentinian seemingly a victim of his own staggeringly high performances of recent years.

Read: Can anyone dethrone Messi?

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian Neymar are outsiders to win the award, with FIFA having named a 23-man list of players to be considered for the prize in October.

The three-man shortlist for the award will be announced next month, with the winner of the 2013 Ballon d'Or set to be unveiled at an awards ceremony in Zurich in January.

Read: Qatar 'rife with migrant worker abuse'

In a separate development, FIFA announced on Wednesday that "fair working conditions must be introduced quickly, consistently and on a sustained basis in Qatar," the 2022 World Cup host nation.

The statement followed a meeting in Zurich between Blatter and the International Trade Union Confederation, and came shortly after an Amnesty International report suggested that worker abuse is rife in Qatar's construction sector.

In response to Amnesty's allegations, the director of the Human Rights Department at Qatar's Foreign Ministry said laws are in place to protect workers from mistreatment.

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