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Neymar showing he’s ready to make list of top 3 in the world

October 19, 2015

MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi’s injury might just be what Neymar needs.

With Messi out of action, the Brazil striker has taken over the spotlight at Barcelona and has the room to prove he has what it takes to finally make the three-player shortlist for the player of the year award.

Neymar is almost certain to be in the 23-player list that will be announced Tuesday for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award. It would be the fifth consecutive time he makes it that far, but this could be the first year in which he has a realistic chance of breaking into the top three.

Neymar is making a strong case for himself thanks to outstanding performances early in the season, including a four-goal game in the Spanish league on Saturday.

“Impressive, unstoppable, electric,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said of Neymar after the match. “Almost impossible to stop without committing penalties.”

Neymar has become the go-to guy since Messi tore a ligament in his left knee nearly three weeks ago, attracting most of the attention of the defenders, setting up teammates and even taking the penalty kicks.

Barring more injuries, there is little doubt that either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo will win the best player award in January, as has happened the past seven years. But making it to the top three would be considered a great achievement for the 23-year-old Neymar, who is in his third season with Barcelona.

It would be another step toward his goal of becoming the best in the world, something he has wanted since beginning his career with Brazilian club Santos. It was one of the reasons he moved to Barcelona, a place where he knew he would have a chance to show what he can do.

Neymar recently played his 100th match with the Catalan club, reaching the milestone with better numbers compared even to Messi, including in goals scored and assists.

“I want to keep making history, winning everything with the club,” said Neymar, who leads the Spanish league in scoring with eight goals in as many matches. “My life and my game changed for the better (after coming to Barcelona).”

Although Messi and Ronaldo have been regular front-runners in the Ballon d’Or award, there hasn’t been much consistency about the third member on that final list, with Manuel Neuer making it last year and Franck Ribery the year before. Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were the outsiders in previous years.

Neymar was voted the fifth-best player in Europe last season, behind Messi, Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez, Ronaldo and Gianluigi Buffon.

A voting college that includes national team captains, coaches and selected journalists in more than 180 countries are expected to decide the Ballon d’Or top three in November.

Whether Neymar will make it this year may depend on how he performs after Messi returns from injury in a few weeks. The spotlight will have to be shared again, and Neymar might have to fall into a supporting role.

But if he can keep it up, it would be almost impossible to keep him from the award ceremony next year.

And there is no telling if he will let anyone replace him after that.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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