UNITED STATES—The award of the most prestigious individual soccer prize of the year is almost upon us, and it appears the traditional two-horse race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has finally come to an end.

Ronaldo, 36, and Messi, 34, have exchanged the Ballon d’Or on 11 of the last 12 occasions – six to the Argentinean and five to the Portugal star – but now it appears their dominance of the prize for the planet’s best soccer player is over.

The only player to break their stranglehold since 2008 is Real Madrid’s Croatian midfielder Luka Modric who picked up the honor in 2018 – the year when he led his country to the World Cup final in Moscow, only to be beaten by France.

With last year’s competition cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic, this year’s prize is expected to be awarded to Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who has enjoyed another stellar year at the German giants.

The Poland striker scored 41 goals in 34 league matches last season to help Bayern to another Bundesliga title, their ninth in a row, and in the process he broke the single-season scoring record held by German legend Gerd Muller – a Ballon d’Or winner himself in 1970.

Lewandowski is closing in on 300 Bundesliga goals, second only to Muller, and is 4/9 (-225) to take this year’s honor – bet $9 on the Polish international and get $13 back if he wins the Ballon d’Or. Messi is second favorite at 7/4 (+175) despite enjoying an indifferent start to life at his new club, reports Paris Saint-Germain.

According to Offers.Bet, one player who many soccer watchers think is currently the best player in the world is only third favorite at 14/1 (+1400) – Liverpool and Egypt’s Mo Salah is enjoying the most consistent spell of his career at present, but the fact his club side went last season without winning any silverware counts against the 29-year-old.

There is clearly impetus behind Salah as his odds have been slashed recently from 33/1, but his outstanding form looks like it has come too late for this season’s Ballon d’Or.

Further down the betting is Messi’s old sparring partner, Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal international has broken all international scoring records recently, but he is only 33/1 to add to his impressive haul of Ballon d’Or prizes. He has scored regularly since he returned to Manchester United in the summer, but is not seen as in the running for this year’s prize.

The Ballon d’Or is an award presented by French news magazine, France Football, and is one of the oldest and generally regarded as, in effect, the prize for the year’s best footballer.

First awarded in 1956 – England’s Stanley Matthews was the inaugural winner – it sees Messi (6) and Ronaldo (5) clear at the top for most wins, and between 2010 and 2015 it merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year, before the two awards separated from 2016 onwards.

It is seen to generally favor offensive players, with Real Madrid’s Fabio Cannavarro the last defender to win in 2006 when his international side Italy won the World Cup. The only defender to win the prize on more than one occasion was Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, but his playing style was very different to the traditional idea of a defensive soccer player.