Football: England dropped from world's top 10

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A REFORM of Fifa's world rankings yesterday saw a marked improvement for the home nations - aside from England, who dropped out of the top 10.

Football's world governing body has revised the way the ranking points are awarded with results in the past eight rather than six years now taken into account.

Fifa has also responded to criticism that teams have risen up the list too quickly through new weighting factors for matches.

That means competitive matches are now worth substantially more points than friendlies, while regional strength factors are also now part of the equation.

The end result for England is a dip of two places since December from ninth to 11th as Spain and the Netherlands benefit from the changes. But for Scotland there is a surge of 12 places from 38th to 26th, likewise the Republic of Ireland, up to 44th.

The improvements are more dramatic still further down the list with Northern Ireland climbing 19 places from just a month ago to 67th.

And there was a boost for Bobby Gould, whose Welsh team have been embarrassed by past lists, up 23 places to the relative respectability of 74th.

However, the changes have left the two leading nations undisturbed, with Brazil top ahead of World Cup holders France in second, with Croatia and Italy joint third.

Organisers of England's World Cup 2006 campaign have welcomed new guidelines to be issued by Fifa to all bidding countries to avoid an Olympic-style bribery scandal.

The FA maintained that there had never been any question that their own pounds 10m campaign had overstepped even the spirit of the impending guidelines in the past. The FA's acting executive director, David Davies, revealed that Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, confirmed that to him and the interim FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, during a meeting in Zurich yesterday.

Davies has been angered by one report which intimated that the FA had been warned to cut down on its supposedly lavish worldwide campaigning efforts from now on.

He said: "We discussed the guidelines that were approved by Fifa's executive committee last May, final versions of which are to be sent to all bidding countries next week.

"We welcome them and firmly believe that we have been operating in the spirit of those guidelines up to this point.

"We specifically asked Mr Blatter whether Fifa had any concerns over the activities of any of the bidding countries and he told us on two separate occasions that they did not.

"It was a very positive and friendly meeting."

The Fifa guidelines include a pounds 100 limit on the value of any gifts offered by a bidding country to any of the 24 members of the Fifa executive who will decide on the 2006 World Cup venue next year.

They were reportedly drawn up after complaints about the amount of hospitality offered by Japan and South Korea, hosts of the 2002 World Cup, and are especially timely in the wake of the Olympic bidding row.

European football's governing body, Uefa, fired another broadside in the direction of Fifa yesterday, denouncing Sepp Blatter's plans to hold the World Cup every two years.

After formally rejecting the proposal on Tuesday at an executive committee meeting in Cape Town before South Africa's Meridian Cup youth tournament, Uefa yesterday said that it was unfortunate that Blatter had first revealed details of his proposals in the media.

"The way the subject was introduced was not fortunate. It put members of the Fifa executive committee in an embarrassing situation," said Uefa's general secretary, Gerhard Aigner. The Uefa committee meeting unanimously agreed that the proposal "had no positive elements for European football nor football in general nor the World Cup".

"It is obvious that it would serve only to devalue the World Cup," Aigner said.

Uefa and its African counterparts will discuss the Blatter plan today but both said it would be an informal meeting and no statement would be made.

"We will be talking to each other about our position on this project but we really don't know much about it because much of it is just speculation," said Aigner.

FIFA RANKINGS: 1 Brazil 829pts; 2 France 787; 3 Croatia and Italy 745; 5 Germany 742; 6 Argentina 733; 7 Czech Republic 726; 8 Netherlands 720; 9 Spain 703; 10 Romania 698. Others: 11 England 697pts; 26 Scotland 602; 44 Republic of Ireland 535; 67 Northern Ireland 467; 74 Wales 446.