Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have between them won the past six world player of the year awards, face opposition from Germany's World Cup-winning goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the shortlist announced by FIFA on Monday.
Ronaldo, the present holder of the title having also won it in 2008, scored a record 17 goals in a Champions League campaign as Real Madrid went on to win their 10th European Cup last term.
Messi, the only player to have won the award four times, failed to win a title this year either with Barcelona or Argentina, although he was integral in his country reaching the World Cup final where they lost 1-0 in extra-time to Germany.
He did pick up the consolation of player of the tournament.
Neuer, who was outstanding in goal for Germany and for Bayern Munich as they won the domestic double, would be only the second goalkeeper to win the award, which is announced on January 12 in Zurich, after the then Soviet Union's Lev Yashin.