By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the two best players in the world right now but Neymar will eclipse them both next year, former Brazil striker Ronaldo told Reuters.
FIFA will release the names of the three finalists for the Ballon d’Or on Monday, with the choice of world’s best player to be announced on Jan. 11.
Brazilians have featured heavily in the voting over the last 20 years with Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka lifting the trophy eight times between 1994 and 2007.
However, the Spain-based duo have had a stranglehold on the award since 2008, with Portugal’s Ronaldo winning it three times (2008, 2013 and 2014) and Messi winning four awards (2009-2012).
“I would bet on Neymar next year,” Brazil’s Ronaldo told Reuters. “I think Neymar is still growing a lot and I think the growth of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi has reached its limit.
“Maybe they will be there another year or two and I think it’s natural that Neymar takes over that position in which Brazil has always had representatives.”
Ronaldo said he had hoped his countryman would break the duopoly this year but was not confident the Barcelona forward would even be in the running given the stiff competition.
“I really want Neymar to win and interrupt the series of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi,” the former Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Barcelona striker said.
“I think this year it will be between the two of them again. I don’t know if Neymar will finish in third.”
Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, Paris St. Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski are among the other possible contenders for the trophy.
(Additional reporting by Tatiana Ramil; Editing by Peter Rutherford)