Comebacks and a coronation
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FIFA.com’s latest stats review focuses on the scoring exploits of Messrs Cole, Di Natale and Henry as well as the sensational form of Israel’s unlikely pacesetters and a historic FIFA Ballon d’Or triumph for Lionel Messi.  

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goals have now been scored by Antonio Di Natale in his last 27 home matches after he struck twice in Udinese’s 4-1 win over Cesena on Sunday. The Zebrette talisman has scored ten times in just eight appearances at the Stadio Friuli this season and, with 12 goals overall, leads the Serie A scoring chart alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic and German Denis. Di Natale’s 17th career brace left his tally in Italy’s top flight at 142, taking him level with Alberto Gilardino, Christian Vieri, Paolino Pulici and Benito Lorenzi in the league’s all-time ranking. Team-mate Kwadwo Asamoah also had reason to celebrate, having marked his 100th Serie A appearance in style with his sixth goal. 

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matches without defeat is the run that has left Israel’s Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona in pole position to win the first top-flight title of their history. This little-known team from the Hula Valley have suffered just one loss all season, and that four-and-a-half months ago, when they went down 3-1 at Maccabi Netanya on the second matchday of the Ligat ha-Al campaign. Since then, they have proved invincible, winning 12 of their last 14 matches to move six points clear of second-placed MS Ashdod, another team aiming for their first-ever national title. For Hapoel, a maiden championship would certainly crown a meteoric rise, given that the club that was formed as recently as 2000 and only gained promotion to the Ligat ha-Al in 2007. 

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major trophies and 55 Barcelona goals was the 2011 haul that underpinned Lionel Messi’s success at Monday’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. The Barcelona star attracted 47.88 per cent of the vote to claim the men’s award by a comfortable margin from fellow nominees Cristiano Ronaldo (21.6 per cent) and Xavi (9.23 per cent). It was, of course, the third year in succession that Messi has been honoured by both FIFA and France Football; previously, only Michel Platini had won three straight Ballon d’Ors, and no-one had managed such a streak in the FIFA World Player award. Xavi, for his part, is becoming accustomed to the role of bridesmaid, having finished in the Ballon d’Or’s top three for a third time without winning – equalling a record set by Bernd Schuster. The female category, meanwhile, witnessed only the fourth recipient of the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award, with Homare Sawa following in the footsteps of serial winners Marta (5), Birgit Prinz (3) and Mia Hamm (2).

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years, 11 months and 25 days after his last Arsenal goal, Thierry Henry was again on target for the Gunners on Monday as he marked his return in fairy tale style. Less than ten minutes after coming off the bench against Leeds United with the game still goalless, Henry – with just his fifth touch of the ball – stroked home the winner in trademark style. It was the Frenchman’s first goal for the north London outfit since a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough on 3 February 2007, since when he has been voted Arsenal’s greatest-ever player by the club’s fans and been honoured with a bronze statue outside the Emirates Stadium. The strike also enhanced Henry’s fine scoring record against Leeds, a team against whom he has now scored 12 times in as many appearances, and settled a tight match in which the visitors had four shots on target to the Gunners’ three. It proved to be a week for dramatic comebacks in England, with Paul Scholes coming out of retirement to make a sudden return to the Manchester United fold, coming on against Manchester City 225 days after what everyone assumed was the 37-year-old’s final Red Devils appearance.

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goals in Lille’s 6-0 Coupe de France win over Chantilly gave Joe Cole the first hat-trick of his 14-year career. The attacking midfielder, capped 56 times by his country, took just 43 minutes to equal his Ligue 1 scoring tally for the season, albeit against a team five divisions below the reigning French champions. Cole, who is on loan from Liverpool, has already scored as many goals for Les Dogues as he managed in his previous three combined with the Reds and Chelsea. Despite their cup success, Cole and Co remain four points off pacesetters Paris Saint-Germain in the title race, but do at least appear to have rediscovered their scoring touch, having notched up ten goals in their last two matches.