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Three-in-a-row win gives O'Neill a rankings reward


On the up: Michael O’Neill and Kyle Lafferty celebrate in Greece

On the up: Michael O’Neill and Kyle Lafferty celebrate in Greece

Brian Little

On the up: Michael O’Neill and Kyle Lafferty celebrate in Greece

Northern Ireland are up to their highest world ranking in over three and a half years having climbed to the heady heights of number 43.

The impressive rise up Fifa's ranks is due to the fantastic form of late which has seen Michael O'Neill's team win their opening three matches in the 2016 European Championship qualifiers.

Before the campaign began, Northern Ireland were 95th in the ratings!

They haven't just jumped to the top of the Group F table, they have leapt an incredible 52 places in the list containing every footballing nation around the globe.

Northern Ireland were big movers last month going up 24 spots in the charts - this time it has been even better with an improvement of 28 places. Fifa's ratings may be considered something of a joke in some quarters, but being in the top 50 is certainly more preferable to languishing in 119th, the lowest Northern Ireland have been under O'Neill.

They also matter when World Cup or European Championship qualifying draws are being made in terms of how the competing countries are seeded.

Mind you, the way Northern Ireland are playing at present, the team will happily take anyone on.

Victories in Hungary and Greece, with a home success over the Faroe Islands in between, have put Kyle Lafferty and his team-mates on course for a place at the Euro finals in France.

After becoming the first Northern Ireland team to win their opening three qualifiers, the target next month in Romania will be to create more history by making it four triumphs in a row at the start of a campaign.

Moving to 43rd is the best position since March 2011 when Nigel Worthington was in charge and Northern Ireland were rated at 40th. The highest Northern Ireland have ever been in the rankings is 27th. Continue to play and win, and O'Neill's players might even beat that.

As for the other nations in Group F, Greece are in 18th (down four), Romania are 21st (up five), Hungary are 50th (up four), Finland 63rd (up two) and the Faroes are 187th (down eight).

What will delight Northern Ireland fans is that they are now 18 places above the Republic of Ireland, who have moved up one position to 61st, after a 1-1 draw in Germany against the world champions who are top of Fifa's list ahead of Argentina and Colombia.

England have dropped two places to 20th, Wales are down five spots to 34th and Scotland have dropped eight places to 37th.

Belfast Telegraph