Romania and Wales enter FIFA Ranking top 10, Argentina in first place
Romania and Wales will be the surprise names in the top 10 of the new FIFA Ranking when it is officially published on Thursday.
Argentina's performance at the Copa America, as they finished as runners-up to Chile after losing on penalties, sees them climb above world champions Germany into top spot. It's the first time they been first for over seven years, dating back to June 2008.
But it is the rise of the two relative minnows which is sure to raise eyebrows. They have been rewarded for their excellent form over the past 12 months, which sees both nations top of their respective Euro 2016 qualifying groups with undefeated records.
Romania (eighth) and Wales (10th) will now be ranked higher than Copa America winners Chile (11th), Spain (12th), Italy (17th) and France (22nd).
Romania, who have only qualified for one finals since Euro 2000 when they made it to Euro 2008, will climb to their highest position since March 2000. But they still have some way to go to match their highest-ever ranking place of third in September 1997.
New FIFA Ranking top 10: 1 Argentina 2 Germany 3 Belgium 4 Colombia 5 Netherlands 6 Brazil 7 Portugal 8 Romania 9 England 10 Wales- Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) July 5, 2015
Anghel Iordanescu's team have only lost one match since November 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Algeria in an international friendly just over a year ago.
Wales, meanwhile, will climb to their best-ever ranking, up from 22nd, as they enter the top 10 following last month's superb Euro 2016 qualifying win over Belgium, who at the time were ranked second -- and you get more points for beating the better teams. Less than four years ago they were ranked 117th.
Chris Coleman's team have lost just once since September 2013, and that was a friendly defeat against Netherlands, and are on course to qualify for their first finals since the 1958 World Cup.
While consistent competitive victories are obviously of primary importance, a nation can greatly improve their ranking purely by not playing international friendlies. Switzerland were essentially seeded in the draw for the World Cup finals as they played fewer friendlies than Italy.
Friendlies are worth far fewer ranking points than competitive fixtures, so much so that most teams will reduce their score just by playing the game even if they win. This is because most friendly victories are worth less than a team's average score, which in turn means the average score is reduced in the next ranking.
And if you don't take friendlies seriously it will further reduce your ranking score, again Italy are the prime example as they slump to their lowest-ever ranking position of 17th. Of the 20 friendlies they have played since November 2011, the Azzurri have won just three. And two of those three wins came last season against Netherlands and Albania.
While some might question the damage international friendlies can cause, it's up to each FA to decide how many they play and how seriously they take the games.
Romania only played one friendly last season, beating Denmark which limited damage to their ranking score. But Wales didn't play any friendlies at all, thus protecting the score they earned from their fine competitive form. Most nations have played four friendlies in the last year.
Their rise has also been aided by the 2014 World Cup finals losing 50 percent of its weighting. So all teams who performed well in that tournament will encounter a slide. Costa Rica, for instance, are set to fall 28 places to 42nd although they do have the Gold Cup starting next week which will provide a bounce back up in the August ranking.
Both Romania and Wales will be seeded in the World Cup qualifying draw on July 25 if, as expected, FIFA uses the July ranking to form the pots. Italy and France will be unseeded.
By contrast, Spain have lost six times in the last 13 months, and played four international friendlies of which they have won only one. Compare that with England, who have won all six competitive matches since their horror showing at the World Cup (thus losing very few points in the 50 percent drop off), along with two of their four friendlies (the other two being draws).
Chile would have been joint 8th in the ranking had they beaten Argentina in regulation time in the Copa America final. But for statistical purposes the game is classified as a draw so they climb eight places from 19th to 11th.
Other highlights see Mexico fall to their lowest-ever placing of 40th, but they do have the Gold Cup to come this month. As do USA, who are set to drop to 34th despite friendly wins over Netherlands, Germany and Guatemala as they lost half their World Cup score.
And there is a great fairy tale as Faroe Islands march up the ranking sees them up into 74th, having never before being higher than 102nd.
New FIFA Ranking top 10: 1 Argentina, 2 Germany, 3 Belgium, 4 Colombia, 5 Netherlands, 6 Brazil, 7 Portugal, 8 Romania, 9 England, 10 Wales.
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.