"And the winner is... Lionel Messi!"
Those are the words everybody expected to hear at this evening's FIFA Ballon d'Or ceremony, and the award show served no upsets. Once again, Messi enjoyed a sublime year and won the award for a fifth time.
The Argentinian was in competition for football's finest individual award with teammate Neymar and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, winner of the award the past two years.
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But it's Neymar who Messi should have been most fearful of. The 23-year-old had a breakout year in 2015 and it would not have been an injustice if the Brazilian was crowned the best player of last year.
Neymar scored 39 goals in all competitions in the 2014-15 season, an impressive number but one that pales in comparison to Messi's 58.
Yet what Neymar accomplished last season, his second since making the leap from Santos to Barcelona, was remarkable.
The 2014 World Cup ended in tears for Neymar, his tournament cut short after breaking a bone in his back against Colombia in the quarter-final.
But Neymar rose from his nadir to become one of the best players in the world.
He was a key figure for Luis Enrique's team en route to Champions League glory, scoring in both quarter-final legs, both semi-final legs and the final.
Talk about rising to the occasion.
In the same period of games, Messi netted in just the semi-final second leg.
Many wondered how Barcelona would cope when Messi suffered a knee injury in September but Neymar ensured their star player wasn't missed.
In Messi's nine-game absence, Neymar scored 10 goals and had six assists as Barcelona won seven times.
The Brazilian gave Barcelona reason to believe life after Messi might not be so bad.
Messi and Ronaldo have now enjoyed an eight-year stronghold on the Ballon d'Or trophy and it's disappointing Neymar, despite a stellar year, was unable to break their dominance. What a welcome sight that would have been.
Do you think Neymar deserved to win his first Ballon d'Or ahead of Lionel Messi?
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