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Portugal moves to 4th in FIFA rankings

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, the Euro 2012 semi-finalists, and England, while Portugal moves into fourth place above South American champion Uruguay.

Roy Hodgson's England moved up to third -- their highest-ever position -- in August, despite exiting Euro 2012 at the quarterfinal stage.

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.

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

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

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.

England has not reached the semifinals of a major competition since hosting the European Championship in 1996, but FIFA said England's poor record at major tournaments had little bearing because only matches played within the last four years are taken into account.

England accumulated most of their ranking points during qualifying campaigns for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

In July, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke felt he had to defend the world governing body's ranking system, admitting it can throw up situations that seem "not very logical".

Valcke said the rankings, which determine whether teams will be seeded in the draw for the 2014 World Cup, still presented "a good picture of the level of international football" but said FIFA wanted to be able to better explain how they worked.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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