Who's the star performer at the 2010 World Cup?
World Cup 2010: Johannesburg
Fifa has announced which 10 players are in the running to win the prestigious Golden Ball and emulate the achievement of such greats as Diego Maradona, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. So who are they and do they deserve to be on the shortlist?
1. Diego Forlan, Uruguay
The 31-year-old has enjoyed a career-defining month in South Africa, with his superb displays either up front or just behind two strikers helping Uruguay, the second smallest nation at the tournament, to their best World Cup performance for 40 years. He burst into life with two goals against the hosts in their group game, struck a brilliant leveller to help deny Ghana in the quarter-finals and then scored once more from long range as Uruguay were beaten by the Netherlands in the last four. He has shaken off his tag as a Manchester United flop.
2. Asamoah Gyan, Ghana
If it was Africa's World Cup, Gyan's star shone brighter than any other player from the host continent. He rifled in the winner from the spot in Ghana's first game against Serbia, scored another penalty in the 1-1 draw with Australia and then bagged an extra-time winner against the United States in the last 16. Heartbreakingly for Gyan, he crashed a penalty against the Uruguayan crossbar in the last minute of extra-time in the quarter-finals - and their opponents took full advantage of the let-off to win the shoot-out.
3. Andres Iniesta, Spain
One half of Barcelona and Spain's midfield pass-axis with Xavi, Iniesta has shown his stunning array of skills on the greatest stage of all. Coming into the tournament after an injury-hit season with his club, Iniesta's return to full fitness gave Spain a timely fillip and his beautifully taken goal against Chile helped seal their progress out of Group H. Throw in crucial roles in David Villa's winners against Portugal in the last 16 and Paraguay in the quarters, not to mention his frighteningly quick feet that has left defenders dumbfounded, and you have one of the world's most complete footballers.
4. Lionel Messi, Argentina
You might be surprised to see the reigning Ballon d'Or winner on this list after he failed to bag a goal in five games and was below par in the crushing quarter-final defeat by Germany. But do not forget the good things Messi brought to the World Cup. He was at his impish best against Nigeria in their opener, helped take South Korea apart in the 4-1 win at Soccer City and proved decisive in breaking down a stubborn Greece team, as well as having a hand in their 3-1 win over Mexico in the last 16. He had 30 shots in total but was denied by some stunning goalkeeping, the woodwork and a bit of bad luck, too.
5. Mesut Ozil, Germany
A star is born. Electric in the 4-0 dismantling of Australia, he scored a wondrous winner against Ghana to book a last-16 spot against England and then proceeded to take Fabio Capello's boys apart just as he had playing for Germany's Under-21 side in 2009. Ozil more than played his part as Argentina were crushed 4-0 in the quarter-finals before his influence ran out against a Spain team that would not let him have the ball for long enough to weave his destructive magic. Ozil's energy, coolness under pressure and unerring eye for a pass have marked him out as a true superstar.
6. Arjen Robben, Netherlands
The flying Dutchman almost did not make it to South Africa after picking up a pre-tournament hamstring injury. But since stepping off the bench against Cameroon in the last group game, he has emerged as a key figure in his side's run to the final. He struck the opener against Slovakia in a 2-1 win, ran Brazil ragged in the second half of their quarter-final and then brilliantly headed in the decisive third against Uruguay in the semi-finals. With his searing pace and ability to go past players, Robben gives a workmanlike outfit some much-needed flair.
7. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany
Rarely in recent history has a footballer remodelled his game with such startling success as 'Schweini'. The peroxide blond kid who burst on to the scene as a teenage winger often used to court controversy. But since being told off by German Chancellor Angela Merkel following a sending-off at Euro 2008, he has never looked back. Now a holding midfielder of power, precision and influence, his performances in the drubbings of England and Argentina were awesome as he ran both games from the middle of the park. Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson called him the tournament's best player, while Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid have been linked with a £50m bid. Capped 80 times, Schweinsteiger is still only 25.
8. Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands
Usually the Robin to Robben's Batman, Sneijder is having the year of his life. Discarded by Real Madrid in 2009, Sneijder joined Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan and has not looked back. After inspiring his team to success in the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia, he has continued his fine form in South Africa. Given the freedom to roam with Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel in situ behind him, Sneijder has been the creative spark behind the Netherlands' stunning run and has gorged himself on goals, too, amassing five - including a brace against Brazil - that has put him level in the Golden Shoe race with David Villa.
9. David Villa, Spain
With Fernando Torres out of sorts, Villa's goals have been even more crucial to Spain - and the little master has not let them down. Buoyed by a pre-tournament switch to Barcelona for £34.2m, Villa has been in stunning form, equally devastating cutting in from the left or playing as a central striker. His first of two against Honduras was one of the goals of the tournament. He followed up with another against Chile and then finished clinically against both Portugal and Paraguay to earn slender 1-0 wins in the knockout stages. What price the winner and the Golden Shoe on Sunday?
10. Xavi, Spain
What more can you say about the man named best player at Euro 2008? Xavi is simply the finest passer and keeper of a ball in the world, the architect of the way this Spanish team likes to dominate possession and impose their style on their opponents. He sets the tempo, is always available to receive and can see passes that look impossible, with the weight of pass particularly impressive. He also set up the winner for Carles Puyol's bullet header in the semi-final win over Germany, surprising Joachim Loew's side by whipping a ball in first-time from the left rather than playing Spain's usual short-corner routine.
As part of the accredited media in South Africa, I will soon have to cast my vote for the Golden Ball. You have watched the action, so who do you reckon I should go for?