Spain leads, Europe gets stronger in FIFA rankings

pain's Fernando Torres, back to camera at left,

pain's Fernando Torres, back to camera at left, celebrating with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain in the Ernst-Happel stadium in Vienna, Austria. (June 29, 2008) (Credit: AP)

ZURICH -- World and European champion Spain topped the latest FIFA rankings on Wednesday, with European teams holding the first four positions as they prepare to begin qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, while the United States moved up three places to No. 33.

Spain maintains its lead over Germany and England, and Portugal moves into fourth place above South American champion Uruguay.

Portugal beat Panama in an exhibition last month, and Uruguay drew with France. Results from four years ago also dropped out of FIFA's calculations.

Italy is No. 6, followed by Argentina and the Netherlands. Croatia and Denmark complete the top 10.

World Cup host Brazil, which has dropped in the rankings while playing only exhibitions this year, climbed one spot to No. 12.

Ivory Coast leads Africa at No. 16, ahead of qualifiers for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations this weekend.

No. 21 Mexico is the best in CONCACAF, which resumes World Cup qualifiying on Friday.

Japan leads Asia at No. 23, ahead of Australia at No. 25 and South Korea at No. 27. All three play World Cup matches next Tuesday.

European teams start on the road to Brazil with 22 matches on Friday and two on Saturday.

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