Barcelona star Lionel Messi has called Real Madrid one of the best teams, and personally praised his Ballon d'Or rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid centre-back Pepe.

The Argentinian international is one of the favourites to win this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or, along with Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta.

And the Barcelona forward has spoken highly of Ronaldo, a player with which all his achievements are invariably compared.

"Madrid are one of the best teams in the world and games against them are always nice to play," Messi told El Mundo Deportivo.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best, and Pepe is a great defender."

The Messi v Ronaldo debate has raged ever since the Portugal international moved to La Liga in 2009. Although Ronaldo picked up the 2008 Ballon d'Or while still a Manchester United player, since moving to Spain, Messi has won each of the last three individual trophies.

Last season was the first time Real Madrid pipped Barcelona to the La Liga title since 2008, and many believed Ronaldo stands his best chance of unseating Messi as the FIFA Ballon d'Or winner this time around.

The announcement is not made until January 2013, but the award takes into account the achievements of the previous season's work.

Messi hit 82 goals for club and country, but his club failed to win any of the big prizes last term, ending the 2011-12 campaign with only a Copa Del Rey from Pep Guardiola's final season.

Ronaldo was just as sensational, if a little less prolific. The Portugal international hit 46 La Liga goals as Real Madrid, under Jose Mourinho, won the league title for the first time in four years.

But this term, the La Liga champions have struggled, and Barcelona have already opened up an eight point lead over Real Madrid.

And the quality of Messi and Ronaldo has not diminished this term, if anything they've improved upon last year's start. Messi has 13 goals already, in just 9 league matches, while Ronaldo has 11. Both scored a brace apiece in the first league El Clasico match of the season, as Barcelona and Real Madrid drew 2-2.

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