World football poll: Messi and Barcelona top; Balotelli and Real Madrid second
Barcelona's Lionel Messi topped the list of top footballers (Reuters file)
By Simon Haydon
It was difficult to vote for any other team.
Barcelona received maximum points in the AP's latest global football rankings, with the team's striker, Lionel Messi, coming close to top marks.
The Catalan team was rewarded by The Associated Press' panel of 20 football journalists for its 4-0 demolition of AC Milan to overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit and qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the sixth season in a row.
"We rediscovered the best Barcelona at the best possible moment," Cedric Rouquette of Eurosport in France said.
Barcelona received the maximum 200 points, with Spanish rival Real Madrid second on 106 points and Italian league leader Juventus third with 92 points.
Messi, who scored twice in the Milan victory, received 195 points out of a possible 200, with AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli second, a long way behind on 77 points and Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski third on 68.
US panelist Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said voting for Messi was "the biggest no-brainer in sports. Putting together this list every week involves really just finding nine names to type after Messi's."
Second-place Balotelli has scored seven goals in six games for Milan, including both in a 2-0 win over Palermo this weekend. Lewandowski also scored two in Dortmund's 5-1 crushing of Freiburg in the Bundesliga. However, Germany-based panelist James Thorogood said it was Nuri Sahin who stood out more for Dortmund, and the Turkish player came ninth in the voting.
"The Turkish international has had to be patient since rejoining Dortmund after unsuccessful spells with Real Madrid and Liverpool, but was back to his influential best against Freiburg, scoring twice and setting up Robert Lewandowski's first," Thorogood said.
David Villa, with 64 points, was the second Barcelona player in the top four, just ahead of Chelsea's Eden Hazard, who is becoming increasingly influential for the London club. Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain was sixth and teammate Cristiano Ronaldo eighth. Both scored in the Spanish champion's 5-2 victory over Real Mallorca.
Andres Iniesta was the third Barca player in the top 10, sharing 10th spot with Chelsea's Frank Lampard.
In the team rankings, Real Madrid was second, earning just over half the points collected by its great rivals, with Juventus in third as it sits nine points clear in Serie A and still in the Champions league.
Dortmund's impressive victory saw the second-place Bundesliga team land in fourth place with 83, four places ahead of league leader Bayern Munich, which is a massive 20 points clear at the top domestically. The champions-elect needed a Leverkusen own goal three minutes from time to eke out a 2-1 victory at the weekend.
Resurgent Chelsea was voted fifth, level with Turkey's Galatasaray, which is surging in the domestic league and in the last eight of the Champions League.
Paolo Condo of Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out that Argentina's San Lorenzo was perhaps the most successful team of the week, as its most influential fan revealed himself - the new Pope Francis, a supporter of the Buenos Aires club.
AP Global Football Rankings for the week ending March 17. Based on 20 voters, using 10 points for top to 1 point for bottom place. Previous rankings in parentheses.
Players: 1. Lionel Messi, (3), 195 points 2. Mario Balotelli, 77. 3. Robert Lewandowski, 68. 4. David Villa, 64. 5. Eden Hazard, 63. 6. Gonzalo Higuain, 57. 7. Edinson Cavani, 54. 8. Cristiano Ronaldo, 50. 9. Nuri Sahin, 39. 10. Andres Iniesta 37. (tie) Frank Lampard, 37.
Teams: 1. Barcelona, (5), 200 points. 2. Real Madrid, (1), 106. 3. Juventus, (2), 92. 4. Borussia Dortmund, (7), 83. 5. Chelsea, 79. (tie) Galatasaray, 79. 7. Manchester United, 68. 8. Bayern Munich, (3), 56. 9. Arsenal, 49. 10. Malaga, 44.