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The top five players in the world today

No better time to compile a list of the world’s best players than straight after a major tournament, though it being the Euros, not all of the contenders were on display.

Some of the names below pick themselves, while the exclusion of others may raise a few eyebrows.

Lionel Messi

Not much debate about this one. Barcelona’s season may have ended in dissapointment, but the diminutive Argentine set the world alight with record-breaking statistics for the Catalan giants.

His 73 goals in the 2011-2012 season is a world record, and the 50 he scored in La Liga is also a Spanish record.

Messi is the first player to top the scoring charts in four successive Champions League campaigns, making history this season when he put 5 past Bayern Leverkusen in Barcelona’s 7-1 demolition of the Germans.

Five La Liga titles, three Champions League medals and an Olympic gold for his efforts with Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Olympics- and he only just turned 25.

As for his critics that say he can’t do it on the international stage, he recently scored a hat-trick in Argentina’s 4-3 victory over Brazil.

With a fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or surely on its way to him, barring injury, Messi stands to end his career as the most decorated player in history, and could already perhaps lay claim to being the greatest of all time.

Cristiano Ronaldo

In almost any other era, Ronaldo would probably have been considered the greatest player in the world.

His duel with Messi over the past two seasons, as Barcelona and Real Madrid have slugged it out both domestically and in Europe, has taken football to another level.

And in some respects, the 27-year-old Portuguese has outshone Messi, taking the Pichichi award in the 2010-2011 season as La Liga’s top goal scorer.

Since moving to Madrid from Manchester United for £80m, making him the world’s most expensive player, Ronaldo has scored 112 goals in 101 appearances, eclipsing records set by Ferenc Puskas and Hugo Sanchez along the way.

As captain of Portugal, Ronaldo has enjoyed mixed success, but proved in Euro 2012 that he can deliver on the big international stage.

Despite the bizarre circumstances leading to him not taking a penalty in the shootout against Spain, he was Portugal’s best player and one of the stars of the tournament.

Andres Iniesta

Having just been confirmed as player of the tournament at the 2012 Euros, Iniesta is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in world football today.

Though it seems like he has been around forever, Iniesta is still only 28 years old.

Part of a phenomenal crop of talent that came through Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Iniesta made his debut for the club in 2002 at just 18 years of age.

Since becoming a regular in the side during the 2004-2005 season, he has won 19 major honours with Barca, and has been an integral part of what many believe to be the best club side in the history of football.

On top of that, he has also been heavily involved in Spain’s extraordinary success over the past four years, scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final of 2010 and being selected in the all-star team for the three successive tournaments that Spain have now won.

Xavi Hernandez

If there’s one drawback to Spain’s victory over Italy in the final of Euro 2012, it’s the fact that we may not get to see the talents of Xavi at an international tournament again.

At 32, the Barcelona maestro may still have a few good years left in him, and winning a second World Cup with Spain in Brazil in two years time would be a fitting end to a spectacular career.

Named as player of the tournament when Spain finally delivered at Euro 2008, his metronomic passing and ability to find space is the foundation for success with both Barcelona and Spain, and his partnership with Iniesta is one of the best the world has ever seen.

He has played nearly 700 times for Barcelona, been capped 115 times for his country, and won everything there is to be won in the game.

Typically, he provided the assists for Jordi Alba and Fernando Torres as Spain triumphed at Euro 2012, becoming the first player to have assists in two European Championship finals.

Neymar

At just 20 years of age, Neymar is perhaps the most exciting global prospect in football today.

Having won the Copa Libertadores with Santos in 2011, scoring six goals along the way, he has already cemented his status as a club legend. In total he has scored 41 times in 86 appearances for the Sao Paulo outfit.

In the famous yellow of Brazil, Neymar has scored nine goals in 18 outings, and he will have huge pressure on him to deliver when Brazil host the World Cup in 2014.

Exciting with the ball at his feet and a superb finisher, speculation has been rife about a move to Europe, with one of the Spanish giants the most likely destination.

For the time being though, Neymar continues to shine for Santos, and if a move does take place in the future, he could well replace Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s most expensive player.

By Andrew Wade

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