PARIS: Lionel Messi and USA women’s World Cup superstar Megan Rapinoe are tipped to leave Paris later on Monday with the 2019 Ballon d’Or awards.

It would be an enormous shock if Rapinoe did not depart the Chatelet Theatre with the women’s prize as she returns to the country where she was the driving force on and off the field for the United States as they retained their title.

messi20191203 - Messi, Rapinoe to take Ballon d’Or honors
Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi (right) challenges Atletico Madrid’s Spanish defender Mario Hermoso during the Spanish league football match at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid. AFP PHOTO

The suspense surrounds the identity of the men’s winner, 12 months after Croatia’s Luka Modric claimed the crown thanks to his exploits in dragging his country to the World Cup final and winning the Champions League with Real Madrid.

That ended a decade in which Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won the Ballon d’Or five times each, but the smart money now is on the Barcelona man claiming number six.

There are 30 nominees in total for the prize, organized by France Football magazine and voted for by 180 journalists from around the world.

The case for Van Dijk
Among the names is Ronaldo, as well as several of the stars of the Liverpool side who won the Champions League, chief among them Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk.

At one point he looked like the favorite, but Messi already pipped him to FIFA’s The Best title in September.

“In matches that are close and intense, having Leo (Messi) is always a big advantage,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde after the 32-year-old scored a late winner against Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Messi top-scored in La Liga last season with 36 goals as Barcelona won the title. He did not have a great Copa America with Argentina, but his genius is undeniable.

“If you give the Ballon d’Or to the best player of this generation then you should give it always to Lionel Messi. That’s how it is,” admitted Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

“But if you give it to the best player of last season, then it was Virgil van Dijk. I don’t know exactly how it will work but that is how I see it.”

AFP

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