ZURICH (Reuters) - Wales, inspired by the work of their late manager Gary Speed, were declared the year’s ‘Best Mover’ in the FIFA world rankings issued on Friday.
Spain remained top and were acclaimed ‘Team of the Year’ for the fourth time running.
Wales, after an outstanding second half of the year during which they beat Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria in Euro 2012 qualifers, climbed to 48th position.
Speed, the architect of their renaissance, was found hanged at his home in November, aged 42, after barely a year in the job.
Speed took over after Wales’s final fixture in 2010 and under his management the team rose from 116th in the rankings to a place in the top 50, gaining more ranking points - 330 - in 2011 than any other nation.
World and European champions Spain finished 2011 in a familiar position, ahead of Netherlands and Germany in an unchanged top 10.
Uruguay were fourth, England fifth and Brazil sixth with Portugal, Croatia, Italy and Argentina completing the leading group.
Bosnia-Herzegovina (20), Panama (49) and Estonia (57) earned their highest placings since the rankings began.
The most dramatic leap of all in December came from American Samoa, who jumped 18 places to 186 thanks to winning a World Cup qualifier for the first time.
Leading rankings (last month’s positions in brackets)
1. (1) Spain
2. (2) Netherlands
3. (3) Germany
4. (4) Uruguay
5. (5) England
6. (6) Brazil
7. (7) Portugal
8. (8) Croatia
9. (9) Italy
10. (10) Argentina
Reporting by Tim Collings; Editing by Clare Fallon and Ken Ferris