FIFA this week released its list of candidates for the 2012 Ballon d'Or, the prestigious annual award handed to the world's best player.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has commandeered this presentation in recent seasons, picking it up for the last three years in a row, and the Argentinian is favourite once again in 2012.

His strongest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, makes a strong case to win his first Ballon d'Or since 2008, but aside from the Portuguese hitman, there's few candidates with a serious chance of scooping the accolade.

But, if few could win the award on the individual basis, which of the 23 candidates would make the grade in a best starting XI? Whittling the candidates down to 11, while taking account of position, is no easy task, as the vast majority - 11 from 23 - are strikers.

Still, GMF has given it our best shot. See what you think...

Iker Casillas (captain) - Goalkeeper

The Spain keeper is the easy choice in goal. Casillas has been head and shoulders above the competition, and in the past year has won a La Liga title and European Championship with Spain. No question he gets the gloves.

Sergio Ramos - Centre-back

Just like Casillas, Ramos has been a key player in two of the best teams of the last year, Real Madrid and Spain. And the 26-year-old has steadily transitioned from a hot-headed liability to one of the best defenders in the world.

Gerard Pique - Centre-back

Pique has endured a difficult season by his standards, and many were surprised to see him on the candidates list. In this case he only makes the team by virtue of being one of the few defenders on the 23-man shortlist. Lucky to get selected.

 

Sergio Busquets - Centre-back

Busquets will have to drop back into defence to form one of our three centre-backs here, but in a team this talented, I think he can get away with it. Hugely underrated, he'd have little trouble here.

Neymar - Right midfield

The Brazil star has teased European football fans with talk of English lessons and Spanish tuition, not to mention providing some of the best YouTube footage of the past year, but Neymar looks set to stay with Santos until 2014. A shame, because he can do things like this.

Andres Iniesta - Left midfield

Spain's main man was sensational in Ukraine and Poland, and his performances at Euro 2012 alone mean he deserves a place in this side.

Yaya Toure - Centre-midfield

At times it seemed like Toure was single-handedly dragging Manchester City to the Premier League trophy. Throughout their first title-winning campaign, whenever Roberto Mancini needed a result with the game on the line, moving Yaya Toure slightly higher up the pitch inevitably led to a City goal.

Andrea Pirlo - Centre-midfield

Another Euro 2012 star-man, Pirlo stylishly passed his Italy side into the final, only to come undone against the planet's one-truly world-class team. But Pirlo was superb all year for Juventus as well, as the Italian giants romped to the Serie 'A' title without losing a game all season. A partnership with Toure, in theory, would be incredible.

Robin Van Persie - Striker

The Manchester United striker earns his place in this team for his work as Arsenal captain. The Dutchman is the complete striker, and scored 30 goals on his way to the Premier League top scorer award. Radamel Falcao can count himself very unlucky.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Left-wing

The season put together by the Real Madrid forward last time out would have been good enough to sweep every individual award on the planet in any decade - but unfortunately Ronaldo has been sharing a league with a player slightly better than himself. Still, his achievements should not be marginalised as a result - Ronaldo is a sensation.

Lionel Messi - Right wing

The three-time Ballon d'Or winner is favourite to win again this year after an incredible 82-goal season for club and country. And If that's not enough to win the Ballon d'Or we may as well all stop playing. The best player in the world, so he's got to play in the best team in the world.

Who would you pick in your ultimate Ballon d'Or starting XI from the 23-man shortlist? Leave your team in the comment box below...

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