Van Nistelrooy has had a stellar year for club and country but the Dutchman is up against the mercurial Ronaldinho who has shone brightly for Barcelona.
Ronaldinho joined fellow Brazilians Adriano Ailton Emerson Juninho Kaka and Ronaldo on a shortlist of 50 nominees announced Tuesday which also includes last year's winner Pavel Nedved.
The skillful Juventus midfielder marked 2003 with a series of inspirational displays for Juventus and the Czech Republic. But this year Nedved has been outshone by the likes of Ronaldinho Portugal midfielder Deco and prolific AC Milan marksman Andrei Shevchenko.
One significant newcomer is van Nistelrooy's Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney of England. The stocky 19-year-old striker thrilled English fans at Euro 2004 scoring four goals and running defenses ragged before an ankle injury led him to limp off early in the quarterfinal defeat to host Portugal.
The Golden Ball is a benchmark in soccer dating back to the first award in 1956 when Englishman Stanley Matthews won.
The winner will be selected next month in the magazine's annual poll of selected journalists from around the world.
Nedved clinched the trophy with 190 points last year ahead of Thierry Henry with 128 and Paolo Maldini with 123. Arsenal striker Henry and veteran AC Milan defender Maldini are nominated again this time around.
Deco 27 starred for club side FC Porto as coach Jose Mourinho - now with Chelsea - led the side to Champions League success and the Portuguese title. He also inspired Portugal to reach the Euro 2004 final where it lost 1-0 to Greece.
When Ronaldinho 24 joined Barcelona the club was dispirited chaotic and languishing far from the summit of the Spanish top flight. Now the Catalan club is riding high at the top of La Liga and putting in some strong showings in the early rounds of the Champions League.
This turnaround in fortunes is largely due to the dazzling skills and scoring ability of Ronaldinho who only recently scored another sensational goal as Barcelona downed AC Milan 2-1 in a Champions League group match.
Shevchenko is a regular fixture at the top of the Italian scoring charts and is also notching freely for Europe and for Ukraine for whom he has 24 goals in 56 matches.
He helped AC Milan win Serie A last season and finished as top scorer in the Italian league with 24 goals including just one penalty.
Shevchenko 28 is lethal inside the penalty area good in the air difficult to mark and can also strike from impromptu angles and from long range. In short a defender's nightmare.
Several players from the triumphant Greece side are included on the list notably goalscoring hero Angelos Charisteas the Werder Bremen striker who scored the decider in the final.
Another notable nominee is England midfielder Frank Lampard a rising star of English soccer with Chelsea and the national team.
Lampard was England's best midfielder at Euro 2004 chipping in with three goals and outshining captain David Beckham. Only Rooney managed to eclipse Lampard's showing at Euro 2004.
However there is no place on the list for 2002 contender Roberto Carlos of Brazil once considered the world's best attacking fullback or Michael Owen his teammate at Real Madrid.
COMPLETE ALPHABETICAL LIST OF FINALISTS FOR THE GOLDEN BALL AWARD
(NAME COUNTRY CLUB):
Adriano (Brazil - Inter Milan Italy)
Ailton (Brazil - Schalke 04 Germany)
Roberto Ayala (Argentina - Valencia Spain)
Ruben Baraja (Spain - Valencia Spain)
Milan Baros (Czech Republic - Liverpool England)
Fabien Barthez (France - Olympique Marseille France)
David Beckham (England - Real Madrid Spain)
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy - Juventus Italy)
Petr Cech (Czech Republic - Chelsea England)
Angelos Haristeas (Greece - Werder Bremen Germany)
Deco (Portugal - Barcelona Spain)
Traianos Dellas (Greece - AS Roma Italy)
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast - Chelsea England)
Emerson (Brazil - Juventus Italy)
Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon - Barcelona Spain)
Luis Figo (Portugal - Real Madrid Spain)
Ludovic Giuly (France - Barcelona Spain)
Thierry Henry (France - Arsenal England)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden - Juventus Italy)
Juninho Pernambucano (Brazil - Olympique Lyon France)
Kaka (Brazil - AC Milan Italy)
Michalis Kapsis (Greece - Girondins Bordeaux France)
Frank Lampard (England - Chelsea England)
Henrik Larsson (Sweden - Barcelona Spain)
Paolo Maldini (Italy - AC Milan Italy)
Maniche (Portugal - Porto Portugal)
Johan Micoud (France - Werder Bremen Germany)
Mista (Spain - Valencia Spain)
Fernando Morientes (Spain - Real Madrid Spain)
Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic - Juventus Italy)
Alessandro Nesta (Italy - AC Milan Italy)
Antonis Nikopolidis (Greece - Olympiakos Piraeus Greece)
Andrea Pirlo (Italy - AC Milan Italy)
Jose Antonio Reyes (Spain - Arsenal England)
Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal - Chelsea England)
Ronaldinho (Brazil - Barcelona Spain)
Ronaldo (Brazil - Real Madrid Spain)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal - Manchester United England)
Wayne Rooney (England - Manchester United England)
Tomas Rosicky (Czech Republic - Borussia Dortmund Germany)
Paul Scholes (England - Manchester United England)
Clarence Seedorf (Netherlands - AC Milan Italy)
Yourkas Seitaridis (Greece - Porto Portugal)
Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine - AC Milan Italy)
Francesco Totti (Italy - AS Roma Italy)
Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands - Manchester United England)
Vicente (Spain - Valencia Spain)
Patrick Vieira (France - Arsenal England)
Thodoris Zagorakis (Greece - Bologna Italy)
Zinedine Zidane (France - Real Madrid Spain)