Three-time world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo will have to take on Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale for the Ballon d’Or.
Both were on the 2016 longlist announced Monday which also featured Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Borussia Dortmund’s Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Juventus veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Manchester United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also on the list, while Barcelona’s Argentine superstar Lionel Messi was expected to be added later.
Ballon d’Or sponsors France Football magazine, who are organising the trophy on their own after the end of their partnership with FIFA, are releasing the names of the 30 players in batches of five over the course of Monday.
Ronaldo, who won the award in 2008 and 2013-14, set himself up for a fourth Ballon d’Or when captaining Portugal to Euro 2016 glory and helping Real Madrid to an 11th Champions League triumph.
Another player to make the list is Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, one of the stars for hosts and beaten finalists France at Euro 2016.
One man not included is Griezmann’s compatriot Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker’s year having been overshadowed by the sextape blackmail affair which led to him being frozen out of the national team ahead of the Euros.
The winner will be determined by a vote of journalists — players (national team captains) and managers will no longer have a say after the ending of the five-year deal between France football and FIFA.
The first Ballon d’Or was won by Stanley Matthews, at the time with Blackpool, who beat Alfredo Di Stefano for the inaugural title in 1956.
Last year’s honour went to Ronaldo’s arch rival Messi, who won it for the fifth time.
Shortlist so far (released in alphabetical order)
Sergio Agüero (ARG/Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (GAB/Borussia Dortmund), Gareth Bale (WAL/Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (ITA/Juventus), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR/Real Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (BEL/Manchester City), Paulo Dybala (ARG/Juventus), Diego Godin (URU/Atletico Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (FRA/Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (ARG/Juventus), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (SWE/Manchester United), Andrés Iniesta (ESP/Barcelona), Koke (ESP/Atletico Madrid), Toni Kroos (GER/Real Madrid), Robert Lewandowski (POL/Bayern Munich)