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The future is Oranje

You thought Spain were the best team in the world, right?

World Cup winners, top of their European Championships qualifying group, home to the world's best club side - but only good enough for second in the current FIFA world rankings.

Holland (aka The Netherlands) overtook the nation that dented their hopes of World Cup glory last year in FIFA's August rankings, to claim the number one spot for the the first time in their history.

Football's world governing body have come in for criticism in recent months for the way they work out their rankings. And, on their website, FIFA do not offer absolute clarity as to why Holland have earned their top spot, referring to the way the Oranje have capped "a resurgence that began back in the summer of 2008".

It would appear that a friendly defeat against Italy has cost Spain their top spot - and therein lies the problem that the likes of Wales manager Gary Speed gripe about. Tournament football is what it's all about and many people inside football believe that the weighting FIFA give to friendlies is too high.

Best ever win 

But a look at the Euro 2012 Group E table does at least show that FIFA might just know what they are doing after all. Holland have won all eight qualifying games, scoring 34 goals and conceding just five, in a group that includes Sweden and Hungary. Holland's 11-0 victory against San Marino on September 2 was their best ever win and, four days later, a 2-0 triumph against Finland was enough to guarantee them a place at next year's finals.

Holland are only the seventh team in history to lead the FIFA rankings, which were established in December 1992, after Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, France and Italy and, as FIFA puts it: "Their rise to the summit has been the reward for the rock-solid form they have shown since Bert van Marwijk succeeded Marco van Basten as coach following UEFA Euro 2008."

Right, so perhaps we'll give FIFA that one. But a look down the rankings list and you do start to sympathise with Mr Speed.

And you don't have to get too far down to find a bit of controversy. Germany third, fair enough, England fourth, well perhaps we're not that good but we'll take that. But Uruguay in fifth, for a second month running?

Confederation weighting - then take away the first number you thought of 

Perhaps the following note on the FIFA website will offer some insight: "For this edition of the world ranking, the confederation weighting for the AFC has been increased from 0.85 to 0.86 backdated to August 2010, after a review of the confederation weighting calculation found that 0.86 is the correct figure. This alteration has led to only minimal changes for a few teams, and would have had no impact whatsoever on the seedings for the Preliminary Draw for Brazil 2014 on 30 July."

I did have a look but no, there wasn't an extra line underneath that says: "Then, take away the first number you thought of." The use of phrases such as 'for this edition of the world ranking' and 'backdated to August 2010' (yes, that's August LAST year!) do appear to provide a little more ammunition for those who think the current FIFA rankings system needs an overhaul.

What it all means is that Ivory Coast are the 15th best footballing nation in the world in FIFA's eyes, and Burkina Faso are in the top 40 (ahead of Belarus, Czech Republic and Jamaica). Even Honduras make it into the top 50, and we've still got at least another page to get through before we can even hope of finding Wales.

Other 'highlights' of FIFA's August rankings list include Gabon at 67 and Cape Verde Islands at 72, with Qatar at 88.

Heady days for Haiti 

Next page, and Wales finally get a look in, but not before taking a back seat to the superior footballing nations of Bahrain, Canada, Suriname, Faroe Islands, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Guyana and Haiti. Even the Central African Republic had the luxury of dropping 14 places from July's rankings and still being 13 places ahead of Wales in 117th - their lowest ever ranking.

Whatever the reason, it's a mighty fall from grace for Speed's men. They didn't do too badly for a team ranked 113 places below England when they played their neighbours recently, but their current ranking is a far cry from former glories for the third oldest football nation in the world and the 1958 World Cup and 1976 European Championships quarter-finalists.

Even as 'recently' as 1993, Wales were ranked 27 in the world, but how times have changed for a nation that has given us the talents of Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes.

As for the FIFA rankings, I will continue to revel in stats and facts including Timor-Leste not being the worst-ranked footballing nation in the world, and San Marino being in the unfortunate position of being in last place by virtue of the fact that American Samoa, Andorra and Montserrat have alphabetical advantage.

Feature by Mark Roach 

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