World Cup-winning goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stands as the only barrier to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi extending their six-year domination of FIFA's player of the year award on Monday.
Germany's Neuer is the latest third man on the shortlist trying to break the free-scoring superstars' grip on football's highest individual honor.
Ronaldo edged Messi for the 2008 and 2013 prizes, and was runner-up in three of his great rival's four straight wins from 2009-12.
No goalie has won since FIFA created its award in 1991, though the Germany and Bayern Munich No. 1's all-around skill and game awareness made him a standout in 2014.
''He has in recent years shaped how goalkeepers play like no one before him,'' Germany coach Joachim Loew told Bild daily this week.
Still, despite leading Germany to World Cup victory, Neuer is seen as the outsider for the award because Ronaldo and Messi set more scoring records last year.
Ronaldo got 61 goals for Real Madrid and Portugal, and his record tally of 17 in a Champions League season helped his club win a 10th European title.
Messi set the career scoring records in the Champions League and Spain's La Liga in November, just as national team captains and coaches and selected journalists were filling their Ballon d'Or ballots.
However, Messi's teams won no trophies: Argentina lost the World Cup final, after its captain failed to score in four knockout rounds, while Barcelona was beaten by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals and for the Spanish title.
Even Messi's Golden Ball award for best player in Brazil ''surprised'' FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Neuer supporters include veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose Switzerland team exited in the last-16 round after Messi created an extra-time goal for Angel Di Maria.
''He's the prototype of a modern goalkeeper, and it's about time that kind of player was selected for the award,'' the German coach said in an interview published by FIFA.
The FIFA Ballon d'Or, which merged with the original award presented since 1956 by France Football magazine, is the main honor in a lavish annual ceremony in Zurich.
A Germany goalkeeper won the women's honor last year though Nadine Angerer is not nominated to defend her title on Monday.
Five-time winner Marta of Brazil, United States forward Abby Wambach, who won the 2012 award, and Germany midfielder Nadine Kessler are on the shortlist.
The contest brings Marta and Wambach to Zurich when both are supporting a discrimination lawsuit filed in Canada for FIFA allowing that country to stage the 2015 Women's World Cup on artificial turf pitches.
In the men's coaching award, Loew is a strong contender against the two club coaches from Madrid: Italian Carlo Ancelotti for Real and Atletico's Diego Simeone from Argentina.
The coaching award for women's football is contested between two men - Ralf Kellermann of Champions League winner Wolfsburg and Norio Sasaki, coach of Japan's Asian Cup winner - and one woman, Maren Meinert, who guided Germany to win the Under-20 World Cup.
Women's football can strike a notable win in the Puskas Award for most beautiful goal.
Ireland forward Stephanie Roche's goal in an amateur domestic league match for Peamount United is shortlisted for the fan-voted prize against World Cup goals by James Rodriguez for Colombia against Uruguay and Robin van Persie for the Netherlands against Spain.
Roche has been supported by a heavy voting campaign in her home country to beat her star rivals.
Blatter will make his first public appearance and speech at the ceremony since his FIFA executive committee colleague Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan declared on Tuesday as a candidate for the presidential election in May.
The longtime FIFA chief will also make a personal presidential award and present a fair play prize.