USA Reaches Highest Position Ever at #5 in Latest FIFA World Rankings

ZURICH Switzerland (From FIFA.com) - Long-gone are the dark days when the United States were considered third-rate purveyors of the beautiful game.

Once outsiders their meteoric rise to fifth-place (up one spot from last month) in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is a clear signal of intent ahead of the FIFA World Cup™ finals in Germany in June and July.

Since their semi-final run at the first finals in Uruguay in 1930 and their miraculous win over England in Brazil in 1950 the USA fell into a four-decade slump exiled in the footballing wilderness until finally qualifying again for the FIFA World Cup in Italy in 1990 - thanks largely to Mexico's timely disqualification. Though they lost all their games in Italy as hosts four years later they reached the second round for the first time in nearly half a century before stumbling to a last-place finish at France 1998.

But in 2002 in Korea/Japan the Americans showed their true colours with a young and exciting team that sparkled through to the quarter-finals raising more than few eyebrows along the way.

Now with a thriving professional league in 11-year-old Major League Soccer one of the CONCACAF region's best tacticians in Bruce Arena (who has held the reins since 1998) and a host of scintillating talents beginning to make waves abroad the North Americans are quickly establishing themselves as a power in the world of football.

Truly long-gone are the bad old days as the stars-and-stripes' climb into fifth spot in the official world ranking clearly indicates. Since the start of 2006 Bruce Arena's side have not lost winning four out of five preparatory games ahead of the finals in Germany. After a moderate stumble in a nil-all draw with northern neighbours Canada they have won four straight matches against Norway Japan Guatemala and Poland scoring 13 goals and conceding only 2 (both in the 3-2 win over Japan).

The USA returned to the top 10 of the Ranking in March 2005 and further success was to follow when they captured their third CONCACAF Gold Cup in July. But Arena has been quick to talk down the meteoric rise of his team despite their encouraging form. A recent 1-0 win over fellow finalists and twice FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Poland in a snowstorm in Kaiserslautern on 1 March is another example of just how tough an opponent they can be.

"We've had a good start to the year. However we realize that come June 12 17 and 22 (Germany 2006) the games are going to look a lot different than the games we've played so far in 2006 Arena remarked after the Poland win attempting to keep his feet on the ground. "We're making progress though and hopefully we continue to get better."

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - the oldest member of the US team - is currently on a hot run of form for Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach and clearly impressed with the USA's form of late. "The confidence level is very high the well-travelled net-minder added after earning a clean sheet against the Poles. "We know we can compete with anybody. If we keep it tight at the back and get the goals I feel confident that we can beat anybody."

Since their lowest-ever ranking (FIFA began keeping a world ranking in August of 1993) of 35th in October of 1997 the USA have begun to challenge archrivals Mexico as top powers in the North Central American and Caribbean zone and are currently 2 places ahead of El Tri.

Putting their profound climb in perspective the Americans are now ranked ahead of such established world football powerhouses as England Portugal France Spain Italy and Germany.

Though Arena and his men are not likely to let the bump-up in statistical status go to their heads their fine form of late will have spirits high ahead of the trip to Germany in the summer in what will be their fifth FIFA World Cup finals on the trot and their eighth appearance overall.

After reaching one rung below their best-ever semi-final run of 1930 four years ago in Korea/Japan (where they lost to the Germans only just in the quarter-final phase after beating Portugal and Mexico) the Americans will be keen to keep up the progress and make some more history this June in Germany where their ability will be taking no one by surprise.

And drawn in a nightmare Group E alongside Czech Republic Ghana and Italy they will need every inch of their five-star panache to make another mark on the world's biggest stage.

To view the complete FIFA World Ranking list of nations CLICK HERE.