Profiles of the five nominees for the 2008 FIFA World Player award which will be named on Monday.
Few players in world football polarise opinion like Cristiano Ronaldo but despite his occasional theatrics and petulance his ability to influence matches is undisputed.
The Portuguese winger is blessed with strength, pace, aerial ability and savage shooting power and he invariably delivers when it matters most -- his magnificent header in last season's Champions League final a prime example.
He arrived at Manchester United just as David Beckham was leaving but he was no straight replacement. While Beckham was all precision passing and energy, Ronaldo has more tricks up his sleeve than a circus magician.
His initial tendency to over-indulge his exhibitionist personality with endless stepovers has gradually receded over the years at Old Trafford and last season he turned into a ruthless scoring machine.
An extraordinary tally of 42 goals propelled United to the Champions League and Premier League double and earned him a place in United folklore alongside George Best.
Factor in the amount of goals he created and it is no wonder United fans were relieved that the Madeira-born genius opted to stay in England this season rather than join Real Madrid.
Liverpool supporters have taken El Nino to their hearts since he made the move from Atletico Madrid to Anfield in 2007 for around 20 million pounds.
They have witnessed many great goalscorers down the years with Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish high on the list. The stealthy Torres has a bit of both of them about his game.
The Spaniard has all the gifts of a thoroughbred striker -- pace, poise and a dead-eye shot -- but is also capable of linking players and retaining possession.
Importantly he has also proved he can survive the hurly burly of English football and handle the rough treatment dished out routinely by opposing defenders, a quality that earns him respect among fans of all clubs in England.
He scored 24 league goals in a sensational first season with Liverpool, a new record for a foreign striker in his debut season. He then went off to Austria and Switzerland and scored Spain's winner against Germany in the final of Euro 2008.
This season has been interrupted by injuries but if Torres stays fit between now and May, Liverpool could be celebrating a first league title for nearly 20 years.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez capped a victorious Euro 2008 campaign with Spain by being named UEFA's player of the tournament back in June.
The 28-year-old was a vital cog in Spain's much-praised midfield and was recognised for the touch, control and distribution that was central to the smooth operation of their brand of attacking football.
He laid on the pass for Fernando Torres to score the winner in the 1-0 final victory over Germany.
Xavi is a product of the Barcelona youth system - a club he joined at the age of 11 -- and in December was rewarded with a contract extension which will keep him with the Catalans until 2014.
Recently he has added a cutting edge to his range of skills and despite Barca having a disappointing campaign last season, contributed seven league goals to the cause. This term Barca have swept all before them and are currently 11 points clear at the top of the Primera Liga.
Xavi's consistently slick yet discrete link-up play is a fundamental part of the possession-football favoured by Barcelona at club level and Spain, with whom he has won 68 caps, on the world stage.
Lionel Messi has frequently been compared to the young Diego Maradona and it was fitting that the Argentina coach was at the Vicente Calderon stadium on Tuesday to witness his superb hat-trick for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid.
The 21-year-old is blessed with the same masterly ball control skills and burst of pace as his illustrious compatriot, and his most memorable goal, against Getafe in a King's Cup match in April 2007, was almost an exact copy of the former Argentina captain's 1986 solo World Cup effort against England.
Born in Rosario, Santa Fe in Argentina on June 24, 1987, Messi joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old. He shone in the youth ranks and Frank Rijkaard gave him his debut in the senior side in a friendly against Porto in November 2003 at the age of 16.
He first played for the full national squad in a friendly against Hungary in August 2005, the same opponents against whom Maradona made his debut as a 16-year-old.
Messi led Argentina to the gold medal at last year's Beijing Olympics and his 10 goals in the Primera Liga this season have helped Barca open an 11-point lead at the top of the standings. He has also scored five goals in five Champions League appearances this term.
AC Milan and Brazil playmaker Kaka has a fight on his hands to keep hold of the FIFA player of the year trophy he won in 2007.
A string of injuries in 2008 limited the 26-year-old's effectiveness and consistency and even being nominated for the award this time is a good achievement.
When he has been injury-free, the religious and clean-living professional has once again been the driving force for a stuttering Milan, linking midfield and attack with his darting runs and incisive passing.
The Rossoneri only finished fifth in Serie A in May and were dumped out of last season's Champions League as holders in the first knockout round by Arsenal. A fully-fit Kaka would have made a big difference.
A fierce shot continues to be another great attribute but a few missed penalties and wayward free kicks could count against him, as well as his own view that Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo deserved to follow him as Ballon d'Or winner this year.
Real Madrid were desperate to land the Brazilian this time last year but their interest has waned given Kaka's commitment to Milan and his slight dip in form. Chelsea have also been linked with him in the media.comments