Lionel Messi has finished runner-up to Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2008 Ballon d’Or votings. The predictions finally came true and Ronaldo’s outstanding performances of last season -in which he won both the UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League with Manchester United- have awarded him this prestigious prize.

The votes from France Football magazine correspondents all over the world gave Cristiano the first spot -succeeding Kaká, the 2007 winner- with 446 points. Leo Messi got 281 points, while Spanish striker Fernando Torres obtained 179 points to finish third.

Lionel Messi spoke to the press about Barcelona’s recent form:

We are enjoying ourselves right now. The team is playing good and fast football. We press the opponents high up the field and move the ball really fast when we are in possession. We must take advantage of our current good form, but people must realize it’s impossible to win all the games as easily as we’ve been doing it lately

In other news:

-Football legend Diego Armando Maradona announced yesterday that he will be the new coach of the Argentine national team succeeding Alfio Basile, who resigned recently.

-Barça defeated Benidorm 1-0 away on the first leg of the first round of the Copa del Rey. Pep Guardiola chose to rest most of the team’s regular starters, including Leo Messi, for this game. The goal was scored by Bojan ten minutes into the second period of a match completely controlled by Barcelona.

The CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) ruled yesterday that FC Barcelona is not legally obliged to release Lionel Messi for the Beijing Olympic Games. The reason for this decision is that the Olympic football tournament is not included in the FIFA calendar.

However, it seems certain that FC Barcelona will allow the Argentinian star, who is already in Beijing for the tournament, to take part in it representing his country. Barça’s coach Pep Guardiola has stated that the club’s position on the matter will be announced shortly, after a conversation between himself and the player takes place. Messi has made clear in the past few days that it is his desire to participate in the Olympics.

Meanwhile, the Argentinians will be making their debut in the competition taking on Ivory Coast today, and the team’s coach Sergio Batista has confirmed that Leo Messi will be in the starting eleven for this game.

In a statement made public today, FIFA confirmed that “the release of players under the age of 23 for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 is mandatory for all clubs.” As a result, Leo Messi will be travelling to China to join Argentina’s Olympic squad.

Messi himself had spoken to the press in Barcelona earlier this morning, stating that he would comply with the decision made by FIFA. As for FC Barcelona, the club is now set to make one last attempt to keep the player (or make him return from Beijing) by appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Lionel Messi arrived in Barcelona from Argentina on Tuesday morning to join his team-mates in the pre-season, which kicked off on Monday. After having played two World Cup qualifying games with his country following the end of the club season, Barça had granted Messi a longer vacation, but the player finally decided to bring his return to the team forward.

Pep Guardiola, Barcelona’s new head coach, commented on Messi’s possible presence with Argentina’s olympic team in Beijing:

We are waiting for an official statement from FIFA. The club is standing up for what we think is fair. If FIFA agrees with us, then Leo will stay. Otherwise he will play in the Olympic Games

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FIFA has announced the names of the three remaining contenders for its 2007 World Player award. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Lionel Messi are the footballers who still opt to win this title.

The trophy will be handed to the winner in a gala to be held in Zurich on December 17.

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Argentina’s national football team has started training in Buenos Aires in preparation for the two World Cup qualifying games, against Bolivia and Colombia, to be played on November 17 and 20, respectively.

Yesterday the players carried out a light practice session at the Ezeiza training fields. FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is set to play from the start in the game against Bolivia, with Crespo, Tevez and Aguero fighting for the other spot in Argentina’s attack.

On another note, Barcelona defeated Alcoyano (3-0) away in the first leg of their first-round King’s Cup tie yesterday. Henry, Gudjohnsen and Bojan scored in an easy win against a Spanish third-division opponent.

After having followed a separate training plan in the past two days, Leo Messi finally joined the rest of the FC Barcelona squad this morning for the last team practice ahead of Sunday’s game against Almeria. The Argentinian completed the training session at the Camp Nou without any problems and was included in the list of players for the clash.

Barcelona’s coach Frank Rijkaard commented on Messi’s condition in the pre-match press conference:

We try to take care of Messi’s health. We will see if he plays the whole 90 minutes on Sunday, but he is in the squad for the game and that means he’s fit and ready to play

FC Barcelona returned to training on Thursday afternoon after the players had been given a day off by Frank Rijkaard. The practice at La Masia fields saw Zambrotta, Toure and Marquez back with the group and close to returning to play after having been sidelined recently due to muscle injuries. The Italian international and the Ivorian midfielder are set to be back in the squad list already for the league game against Almeria on Sunday.

Lionel Messi did not join his team-mates in the group session but instead did separate physical work. The Argentinian star ran on the training field for some minutes and then headed to the gym to exercise with one of Barça’s trainers. The club have decided to set a specific work plan for Messi aimed at preventing injuries, after the three matches and several long trips the player has had in the past ten days.

French magazine France Football has announced the list of 50 players eligible for this year’s Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball), the most prestigious individual award in the world of football.

Lionel Messi, who was already nominated last year, has again been included among the candidates for the prize. Brazilian midfielder Kaká, the standout player in the Champions League-winning AC Milan side, is believed to be Messi’s strongest competitor. Five other Barcelona players are in the nominees list, namely Henry, Abidal, Deco, Eto’o and Ronaldinho. The name of the winner will be determined from the votes casted by 96 journalists and revealed on December 2.

In addition, Leo Messi is also one of the 40 nominees for the Golden Boy prize, intended to acknowledge the best footballer under the age of 21 playing in Europe. This trophy awarded by Italian paper Tuttosport was already given to Messi in 2005, while Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas was last year’s winner.

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