Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland move into top 20 in FIFA World Rankings

And it could carry huge significance for the World Cup play-offs

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland have risen to their highest ever position in the FIFA World Rankings.

The recent World Cup qualifying wins over San Marino and the Czech Republic have helped Michael O'Neill's side up to 20th in the world - moving above Sweden, Iceland and Costa Rica in the latest list.

As the Belfast Telegraph reported last week, the rise up the rankings had been expected after NI's two crucial World Cup qualifying wins. And it could prove to be a significant shift in the country's chances of being seeded should they make it to the play-offs for next year's World Cup finals in Russia. Keep reading to find out why.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland have dropped five places to 34th after their 1-1 draw in Georgia and 1-0 defeat to Serbia. Wales are up five places to 13th, moving ahead of England, who are down two to 15th. Scotland are the biggest risers of the Home Nations, moving up 15 places to 43rd.

What exactly does it mean for Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off seeding hopes?

Seedings will be decided on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to be published on 16 October. Of course that is after that final two fixtures in qualification - so all of this is just 'as it stands' before those games.

As explained in this detailed look at all the permutations, Portugal and Italy (Group B and Group G) will take the top two seeds. That leaves another two up for grabs.

Iceland (Group I) and Sweden (Group A) both have strong chances of making the play-offs and had looked like they would be seeded ahead of NI as they were higher ranked. But the reversal in the latest update could change everything - if Northern Ireland manage to remain where they are.

As things stand, the only way Northern Ireland will NOT be seeded for the play-offs is if BOTH Wales (Group D) and Slovakia (Group F) make it into the play-off stage. But remember that could change between now and October 16 - the key date.

Have a look here for all the nitty gritty permutations of the remaining two qualifying fixtures here:

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