52 nations will discover what lies between them and a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia when the qualifying draw is made in St. Petersburg later today.
Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland have dropped to fourth seeds following their lacklustre Euro 2016 campaign but for Wales, they are top seeds for the draw thanks to their incredible qualifying campaign and broke into the world’s top ten rankings for the first time.
England remain top seeds along with Wales, while holders Germany, Spain, Belgium, Romania, The Netherlands, Portugal and Croatia are also drawn into pot one.
Both Scotland and Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland are in pot three, while former World Champions Italy and France have only made pot two and could face the likes of Spain and Germany.
The six pots are as follows:
Pot 1: Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, England, Wales, Spain, Croatia
Pot 2: Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pot 3: Ukraine, Scotland, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Greece
Pot 4: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia
Pot 5: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova
Pot 6: Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra
There will be nine groups. Seven will include six teams, while two will feature five nations.
There are 13 places for European teams up for grabs at Russia 2018. The group winners will all qualify automatically and then the eight best runners-up will enter a play-off for the final four places.
From an Irish point of view, the best case scenario would be a group of Wales, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Moldova and San Marino. The worst possible group for the Boys in Green would be Germany, Italy, Sweden, Cyprus and Kazakhstan.
Roy Hodgson’s side will also hope to avoid a worse case scenario which could see the Three Lions paired with Italy, Poland, Turkey, Finland and Kazakhstan.
However, they will be hoping for a more kinder draw in which a group with Iceland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands, Moldova and San Marino the best possible scenario.
I did a mock draw and here’s what happened:
Group 1: Croatia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Belarus, Andorra
Group 2: Portugal, Italy, Albania, Estonia, Finland, Liechtenstein
Group 3: Germany, Denmark, Greece, Bulgaria, Moldova, Kazakhstan
Group 4: England, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Turkey, Latvia, Georgia
Group 5: Wales, Austria, Poland, Montenegro, Cyprus, Malta
Group 6: The Netherlands, Slovakia, Serbia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg
Group 7: Romania, France, Sweden, Faroe Islands, Macedonia, San Marino
Group 8: Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, Armenia
Group 9: Spain, Czech Republic, Scotland, Norway, Lithuania
If this was the real thing, I think Ireland would be very happy with their group with Croatia being the only real threat but England would face some long-haul flights to Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey to qualify.
The actual draw takes place later today at 1555 GMT and will be available to watch on the RTÉ Player for Irish viewers