Spain make historic leap

On the back of winning their first major trophy in 44 years, Spain have continued where they left off in Austria and Switzerland by taking top spot on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the very first time; a position that has been almost exclusive to Argentina, Brazil and Italy in recent years.

La Selección moved up three places into first after a UEFA EURO 2008 campaign that included wins over the Italians and Germany. Luis Aragones' European champions have also benefitted from the unconvincing form shown by South American giants Brazil and Argentina in regional qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

Stats speak for themselves
Aragones' record since taking over from Inaki Saez after EURO 2004 reflects just how much progress has been made. In 54 matches under the guidance of El Sabio de Hortaleza (The Wise Man of Hortaleza), Spain have lost just four times. Prior to the first of these reverses, a 3-1 loss to France in the Round of 16 at Germany 2006, La Roja had strung together a sequence of 25 games without defeat between August 2004 and June 2006 - the second-longest unbeaten run in Spanish senior national team history.

The disappointment of yet another premature FIFA World Cup exit took some time to fade, with Aragones' charges falling to back-to-back EURO 2008 qualifying defeats by Northern Ireland and Sweden, 3-2 and 2-0 respectively, as well as suffering a 1-0 friendly reverse by Romania. With the pressure beginning to mount, El Sabio showed the strength of character required to steady the Spanish ship and steer his gifted charges to the very summit of the European game.

Since that Romania defeat in November 2006, La Selección have gone 22 matches unbeaten, racking up 19 wins and three draws. Xavi and Co are now just three games short of matching their previous record under Aragones, and nine games shy of the 31-game run set by Javier Clemente's national team between September 1994 and November 1997.

Long road to the top
The current Spanish squad have made history with their leap into pole position on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, though Spain have come close to taking top spot on a number of previous occasions. The first of these was in December 1994 under the aforementioned Clemente, whose side were second only to USA 1994 winners Brazil. There they stayed until March 1995, returning briefly in October of that year.

It would take another two years for La Roja to reach such heights once more. With Andoni Zubizarreta and Fernando Hierro keeping things tight at the back, coupled with the emergence of a youngster by the name of Raul Gonzalez, Spain held second place between July and August 1997 and again in October 1997, thus justifying their status as one of the favourites for France 1998.

Yet the Spanish were unable to live up their billing on French soil, making the short journey home from the showpiece event after failing to reach the knockout phase. This disappointment was reflected by a lengthy spell away from the top two spots on the world ladder, Spain drifting out of the picture until April 2003, when they reclaimed second position for one month under coach Jose Antonio Camacho.

All of these near-misses only served to whet Spanish appetites for the day they would see their country atop of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Having finally achieved this impressive feat, coach Aragones can now decide his next move safe in the knowledge that his place in the history of La Selección is assured.