FIFA announced the shortlist on Monday after voting rules changes made Ronaldo the favourite after helping Portugal qualify for the World Cup last month.
FIFA gave voters – national team captains and coaches, plus selected journalists – two extra weeks to choose from 23 candidates, and even change preference.
Ronaldo’s hat trick against Sweden helped lift his tally to 67 goals for Portugal and Real Madrid in 2013.
Messi, who has won the last four player of the year awards, scored 45 goals for Argentina and Barcelona before being injured.
Ribery was already named Europe’s best player for helping Bayern Munich win the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup last season.
The award ceremony is January 13.
Ribery had been the favourite until FIFA’s surprising announcement to re-open voting the morning after Portugal’s playoff victory in Stockholm.
Speculation about FIFA’s motives was fuelled by a bizarre public spat weeks earlier between Ronaldo and FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Blatter offended the 2008 award winner with comments and mimicry when addressing students at Oxford University in England.
Contrasting Messi’s humble, low-key personality with Ronaldo’s apparent vanity, Blatter then stood to act out what he described as the Portugal winger’s “commander in the field” stature.
Ronaldo responded in a barbed statement on his Facebook page and celebrated a goal in his next match with a mock military salute gesture.
The Portuguese government got involved to defend its national hero, and the dispute seemed to confirm to Madrid fans and media that FIFA is biased toward Barcelona, even though Ballon d’Or ballots are cast independently.
Messi has won the world player award each year since 2009, and three times Ronaldo has been runner-up. In the 2010 award, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta completed an all-Barcelona podium.
In January 2012, Ronaldo and then-Madrid coach Jose Mourinho skipped the gala ceremony in Zurich despite being on the shortlists, citing a clash with preparation for a Copa del Rey match.
Ronaldo attended last January and impressed with his gracious attitude despite losing again to Messi.
Messi was runner-up when Ronaldo won his first and only award for 2008 after helping Manchester United win the Champions League title.
Ronaldo did not win a trophy in 2013 despite an astonishing, prolific scoring rate of better than one goal per game.
His World Cup playoff displays could be key, having scored all of Portugal’s goals in a 4-2 aggregate victory over Sweden.
Messi scored 45 goals in 46 games but his playing year was ended by his third injury, a left hamstring problem sustained in a league match.
The Ballon d’Or was created by France Football magazine in 1956 and, three years ago, merged with FIFA’s world player of the year award, which had been presented since 1991.
The finalists for the women’s world player award are Abby Wambach of the United States, five-time winner Marta of Brazil and Nadine Angerer of Germany.
The ceremony will also give awards to the best coaches in men’s and women’s football.
The men’s list is headed by Alex Ferguson, who retired as Manchester United manager in May after more than 26 years.
Written by Steve Milne – Have your say below