Brazil stay on top as Japan take off

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The Independent Online

Brazil continue to top the Fifa world rankings, while the newly crowned champions of Asia, Japan, made the biggest leap of the month, vaulting into 34th place.

Brazil continue to top the Fifa world rankings, while the newly crowned champions of Asia, Japan, made the biggest leap of the month, vaulting into 34th place.

With 818 points, Brazil hold a 17-point lead over the reigning world and European champions, France, who stay in second position. Japan soared 15 places following their Asian Cup victory in Beirut over Saudi Arabia, who also made gains this month, moving to 35th spot, up 11 places. Apart from Scotland, up five places to 20th, and Ukraine, up nine to 31st, there were no changes to speak of at the top end of the table.

Lower down the ladder, Albania's surprise home victory over Greece in the World Cup qualifiers also proved profitable, the country rising 13 places to 81st, while Greece dropped 10 spots to 42nd. Vietnam's string of successes in the Tiger Cup, still being played in Thailand, took them up to 98th place from 110th.

Fifa, the sport's world governing body, also announced it expected this year to go down in history as one of the most action-packed ever, with 997 matches already played and the 1,000-match benchmark imminent. The World Cup qualifiers coupled with the continental championships has already smashed the previous record set in 1997 when 883 matches were staged.

Fifa said its Team of the Year award will go to the country that reaches the highest number of points overall this year. Italy, the Netherlands and Honduras are all currently vying for the award. Honduras are the hot favourites for the Mover of the Year award, along with Portugal and Nigeria. The awards will be presented at the Fifa Gala in Rome on 11 December.

Barcelona's most famous supporter, Pope John Paul II, was briefly denied his usual rights at the club this week when an administrative error saw his season-ticket number, 108,000, allocated to a young fan, Ruben Garzon, according to reports in Spain yesterday.

Barcelona said they would rectify the error as soon as possible. "The Pope is an honourary member and will be for as long as he lives," a Barça spokesman said.

Olympique Marseilles are in the final stages of talks with the former Paris St-Germain and Athletic Bilbao coach, Luis Fernandez, for the ex-French international to become their coach.

Fernandez, who stepped down as Athletic Bilbao coach at the end of last season, has since been linked with various clubs including Galatasaray, Barcelona and Lazio. Marseilles are currently in the relegation zone of the French First Division and their acting president, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, said he would announce a new strategy for the club, including a new coach, at the end of this week.

Louis-Dreyfus parted company with the former club president, Yves Marchand, and their general manager, Eric di Meco, last week, while the current caretaker coach, Abel Braga, is also expected to be next on the short-list. Louis-Dreyfus will meet the powerful Marseille supporters' groups tomorrow before the crucial home match against Metz and he might wait until then to tell the fans "the good news".

FIFA WORLD RANKINGS (last month's rankings in brackets): 1 Brazil 818 (1); 2 France 801 (2); 3 Argentina 762 (3); 4 Czech Republic 748 (4); 5 Italy 746 (6); 6 Spain 742 (5); 7 Portugal 740 (7); 8 Germany 715 (8); 9 Yugoslavia 712 (10); 10 Netherlands 711 (9); 11 Mexico 696 (11); 12 Paraguay 694 (14); 13 Romania 685 (13); 14 Norway 684 (12); 15 Colombia 674 (16); 16= England 667 (15); Croatia 667 (17); 18 United States 648 (18); 19 Chile 642 (19); 20 Scotland 637 (25); 21 Russia 636 (23); 22 Sweden 632 (21); 23 South Africa 631 (22); 24 Denmark 626 (20); 25 Tunisia 613 (26); 26 Belgium 611 (23); 27 Slovakia 608 (26); 28= Morocco 606 (28); Turkey 606 (30); 30 Trinidad and Tobago 597 (29); 31 Ukraine 596 (40); 32 Egypt 589 (31); 33 Republic of Ireland 588 (38); 34 Japan 587 (49); 35 Saudi Arabia 586 (46); 36 Uruguay 585 (34) and Israel 585 (37) 38 Slovenia 584 (32); 39 South Korea 581 (44); 40= Iran 580 (43); Cameroon 580 (35); 42= Greece 578 (32); Austria 578 (39); 44 Poland 575 (36); 45 Peru 563 (41); 46 Jamaica 560 (42); 47 Zambia 558 (45); 48 Hungary 555 (53); 49 Iceland 551 (52); 50 Honduras 546 (46); 51 Nigeria 544 (57); 52 Ivory Coast 542 (50); 53 Angola 539 (51); 54 Bulgaria 535 (55); 55 Finland 533 (55); 56= Costa Rica 531 (54); Ghana 531 (48); 58 Ecuador 527 (58); 59 Switzerland 526 (61); 60 United Arab Emirates 525 (59); 61 Guatemala 522 (60); 62 Thailand 518 (63); 63 Canada 516 (64); 64 Georgia 510 (62); 65 Uzbekistan 509 (66); 66 Bolivia 504 (65); 67 Cyprus 500 (67); 68 Zimbabwe 493 (68); 69 Congo (Zaire) 489 (69); 70 Kuwait 486 (74); 71 China 485 (77); 72 Estonia 484 (71); 73 Burkina Faso 481 (73); 74= Australia 479 (70); Macedonia 479 (82). Selected: 90 Northern Ireland 440 (91); 107 Wales 391 (108).

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