Football: England move into top four in the world but Fifa downgrades other British sides

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The Independent Online
England have jumped to fourth in the end-of-year world rankings issued by football's world governing body, Fifa, yesterday, an improvement of eight places on 12 months ago.

They finished top of their World Cup qualifying group and ahead of Italy, who have also fallen behind England in the new rankings but moved up one place to ninth. Scotland, despite qualifying for France 98, have fallen from 29th to 37th compared to this time last year, while their group opponents next summer, Brazil, are still ranked as the best in the world. Germany are second and the Czech Republic two places higher in third.

The Republic of Ireland have gone down to 47th from 36th; Northern Ireland have slumped from 64th to 93rd and Wales are 102nd after being 80th last Christmas. Terry Venables' Australia have moved up 15 places to 35th.

Coventry City have signed Viorel Moldovan, on a four and a half year contract worth pounds 4.2m. The Romanian international striker is due to join from the Swiss side Grasshopper on 2 January.

However, Everton have failed to convince Mickael Madar to join them from Deportivo La Coruna. The 29-year-old French international striker had been expected to sign for the Goodison club yesterday, but he will fly back to Spain today to think further about the move.

West Bromwich Albion will parade Denis Smith as their new manager at a press conference at The Hawthorns today. He has agreed a three-year contract to take over from Ray Harford.

Crystal Palace have made a bid for Norwich's Welsh Under-21 midfielder Craig Bellamy.

Preston have dismissed reports that Ian Rush may replace Gary Peters as manager at Deepdale. The Newcastle striker said last week that this would be his last season in the top flight.

Aberdeen's players are under pressure after the manager of the Scottish Premier's bottom club, Alex Miller, said he would listen to offers for any of his squad except his goalkeeper, Jim Leighton, and the new recruit, Derek Whyte.

WORLD RANKINGS (end 1996 in brackets): 1 Brazil (1) 73.45pts; 2 Germany (2) 65.41; 3 Czech Republic (5) 64.92; 4 England (12) 61.26; 5 Mexico (11) 60.80; 6 France (3) 60.36; 7 Romania (16) 60.35; 8 Denmark (6) 59.95; 9 Italy (10) 59.59; 10 Colombia (4) 59.44. Others: 37 Scotland (29) 52.27; 47 Ireland (36) 47.07; 93 Northern Ireland (64) 33.69; 102 Wales (80) 29.66.