Liga-dominated FIFPro World XI raises eyebrows
With Spanish clubs having supplied all 11 members of the FIFPro World XI for 2012, La Liga's claim to be considered the world's best league appears stronger than ever.
Barcelona and Real Madrid may have missed out in last season's Champions League, losing to Chelsea and Bayern Munich respectively, but they still supplied 10 of the players voted into FIFA's all-star team by over 55,000 professional footballers around the world.
Atletico Madrid's Colombian striker Radamel Falcao completed the line-up, meaning that for the first time in the eight-year history of the selection, all 11 players were drawn from teams playing in the same country.
In recent years, coinciding with Spain's dominance of both club and international football, the make-up of the FIFPro World XI has crystallised around a small coterie of players.
Serial Ballon d'Or-winner Lionel Messi has been a mainstay of the side since 2007, Iker Casillas and Xavi since 2008, and Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo have been included in the team for the past four years.
In fact, so enduring is the appeal of the players at Spain's top two clubs that there were only two changes to the 11 voted into the FIFPro World XI in 2011.
Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were the men to make way, for Falcao and Madrid's Brazilian left-back Marcelo, as the English Premier League had its grip on the team prised away finger by finger.
England has at least mustered representation in recent years, which is more than can be said for the German Bundesliga and France's Ligue 1, while the leading lights from Italy's Serie A have been ignored since 2010.
Amid criticism that the FIFPro selection amounts to nothing more than a glorified popularity contest, dissenting voices have emerged.
Germany captain Lothar Matthaus, present at the Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich, claims "people were shaking their heads" when the line-up was announced, while Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole jokingly tweeted: "#iwantspanishpassport."
Given the Spanish national team's stellar achievements in 2012 and the enduring brilliance of Messi and Ronaldo, it is difficult to quibble with much of the team, but there is room for conjecture.
Xabi Alonso won the league with Madrid and scored twice against France in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, but his performances in Poland and Ukraine were eclipsed by those of Italy's Andrea Pirlo.
The elegant Juventus midfielder narrowly missed out to Iniesta in the voting for the player of the tournament and UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh described his displays as "magnificent".
His Italy and Juve team-mates Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini also enjoyed excellent years, including success in Serie A, although both were members of the back line pierced four times by Spain in the Euro 2012 final.
In attack, Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea's Champions League hero Didier Drogba all presented strong cases for inclusion as well, albeit not with a Spanish accent.
FIFPro World XI 2012:
Iker Casillas (ESP/Real Madrid); Dani Alves (BRA/Barcelona), Gerard Pique (ESP/Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (ESP/Real Madrid), Marcelo (BRA/Real Madrid); Xabi Alonso (ESP/Real Madrid), Xavi (ESP/Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (ESP/Barcelona); Lionel Messi (ARG/Barcelona), Radamel Falcao (COL/Atletico Madrid), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR/Real Madrid)
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