Holder Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi were on Monday named on the final three-man shortlist for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or award, which will be presented at a ceremony in Zurich on January 9.
Barcelona superstar Messi won the inaugural award - a combination of the France Football Ballon d'Or prize and FIFA's World Player of the Year award - last year, having picked up both awards in 2009.
His great Real Madrid rival Ronaldo had won both awards the previous year.
Messi's Barcelona team-mate Xavi was also shortlisted for the 2010 prize and finished in third place, behind another Barca colleague, Andres Iniesta.
The three-man shortlist was unveiled during a press conference at France Football headquarters in Paris attended by FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke.
Messi, 24, will start as a strong favourite to retain his prize, after a year in which he inspired his club to a La Liga and Champions League double.
He scored twice, including a memorable solo goal at the Bernabeu, as Barca beat arch rivals Real in the Champions League semi-final and was also on target in the 3-1 defeat of Manchester United in the final at Wembley.
This season he has scored his 200th goal for Barcelona and is closing in on Cesar Rodriguez' all-time record of 235 goals for the club.
Like Messi, 26-year-old Ronaldo scores at a rate of roughly once a game and last season broke the record for most goals scored in a La Liga season with 40 as his side finished runners-up to Barcelona.
He scored an extra-time winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barca in April and recently found the net for the 100th time in a Real shirt.
The award is voted for by national team coaches and captains, as well as a panel of football journalists selected by France Football magazine.
In the award for Men's Coach of the Year, Messi's Barcelona mentor Pep Guardiola was shortlisted alongside Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.
A shortlist for FIFA's Ferenc Puskas Award for the best goal of the year was also revealed, with Wayne Rooney's spectacular overhead bicycle kick for Manchester United against Manchester City leading the nominations.
Messi's inventive chip over the goalkeeper and volley against Arsenal in the Champions League and a slaloming solo goal by Brazilian sensation Neymar in a league game for Santos against Flamengo were also shortlisted.
In the women's equivalent of the Ballon d'Or, holder Marta of Brazil was nominated alongside USA striker Abby Wambach and Japan's Homare Sawa, who finished as the top scorer at this year's women's World Cup in Germany.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki was recognised for leading his country to their first ever World Cup title by being named in the shortlist for the Women's Coach of the Year prize.
France's Bruno Bini and the USA's Swedish coach Pia Sundhage were also nominated.