Play-offs sway Ballon d’Or decision as Ribery flops and Ronaldo soars

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“I try not to think about the Ballon d’Or, but my wife has already prepared the space above the fireplace in the living room.”

Franck Ribery may be the 11/10 favourite for the FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, and Mrs Ribery might already be buying the trophy polish, but there’s a certain Portuguese winger who is not yet ready to throw in the towel.

Ribery’s confident proclamations on Friday, (“Before I was a good player, now I think I’m the best”), may eventually prove to have been a little cocky, but they certainly were ill-timed as his rival for the gong outclassed him on a night of contrasting emotions for Ribery and Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid winger has endured something of an uneasy relationship with FIFA President Sepp Blatter of late, but the previously third favourite behind Ribery and Lionel Messi saw his odds slashed to 9/4 – putting him ahead of his injured Argentinian foe in the running – after inspiring his national side to a crucial 1-0 win over Sweden in the World Cup play-offs.

But while the football world was preparing itself to be without one of Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at next year’s prestige tournament, few were expecting a scenario where Ribery may also miss out.

For the in-form Bayern winger was largely subdued for his country in their own crucial tie, when Ukraine stunned the woeful French 2-0 in Kiev.

It proved in stark contrast to Ronaldo, whose 82nd minute diving header gave Portugal the advantage heading into Tuesday’s second leg, with the forward unlucky not to double his tally when crashing a second header off the bar only minutes after the opener.

So while his performance not only pipped that of Ibrahimovic, kept quiet throughout by a well-marshalled Portuguese back line, the Madrid forward’s display will also not have gone unnoticed at FIFA HQ.

It was Ronaldo’s 63rd goal for club and country this year, considerably more than the next best, Messi on 45. And with the Barcelona man now injured for two months, it leaves only Ribery as a genuine challenger to prevent Ronaldo ending a run of two successive years as runner-up.

With the award announced in January, FIFA will know which teams will be lining up in Brazil next July. As the guardians of the international game, surely they’ll look more favourably on the player capable of leading his country to their showpiece event. As such, unless Ribery masterminds an unlikely turnaround for France (or Ibrahimovic, 20/1, does the same for Sweden), Ronaldo’s price of 9/4 to claim the Ballon d’Or looks a smart pick.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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