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Analysis

Ballon d’Or looms, for better or worse

Alex Morgan (13) and Abby Wambach are each finalists for the 2012 Ballon d'Or. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

We won’t soon forget Monday’s announcement of the Ballon d’Or winners as FIFA World Player of the Year, for better or worse.

The men’s finalists are Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, but the drama we are focused on lies on the women’s side. Americans Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach are finalists alongside five-time winner Marta of Brazil. If Morgan or Wambach win, it will be a historic first. If Marta wins, it will be an infamous coup.

Marta is the most technical women’s player in the world — a player unlike the women’s game has ever seen. Her five-straight Ballon d’Or titles from 2006-2010 speak to that (Japan’s Homare Sawa breaking that streak last year, for her 2011 season), but Marta’s 2012 campaign was unremarkable and mostly dormant for the typically less than active Brazil. Marta, despite all her greatness, has no business being a finalist for the award this year.

As Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl notes, however, she could still win due to the uninformed nature of so many voters (each country has a national team coach, a national team captain and a journalist vote).

“I’d love to be wrong here, but I suspect that the two U.S. players will split votes while clueless voters (the national team coach and captain along with one journalist from each FIFA country) opt for Marta based on reputation,” Wahl writes.

He could just be right, and it would be an absolute travesty for the women’s game which has a habit of taking one step forward and two steps backward.

I’ve said all along that this should be a toss-up between Wambach and Morgan, who can thank each other for their respective incredible years. I give my unofficial vote to Morgan for adding a playmaker role to her threat as a scorer, as well as stepping up in the biggest of moments in the Olympic semifinal 4-3 extra time win over Canada, in which Morgan’s 123rd minute goals was the difference (and the latest-ever goal in a FIFA competition).

Keep tabs on the Ballon d’Or and watch the livestream of the FIFA Gala here. The Gala itself, with the actual announcements of winners, starts at 12:30 p.m. ET.

For what it’s worth, each player says they would vote for the other:

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