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Who can Northern Ireland face in World Cup qualifying and when is the draw as Ian Baraclough's men in Pot 3?

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough is looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers with optimism despite his side's disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Romania to sign off their 2020 calendar.

They will discover their World Cup qualifying fate in the draw on December 7, with the campaign set to kick off in March.

And for Baraclough, it's a chance to open a new chapter.

"I'm getting excited already," he said. "I know there is still disappointment a week on having gone out of the Euros but we have to look forward. We can't turn the clock back so we're looking forward to our World Cup campaign.

“We will be ready. The draw is close and it will get the juices flowing."

Northern Ireland will enter the draw in Pot 3, needing to upset the odds to finish either first for automatic qualification or second to secure a play-off for a place in Qatar's winter finals during November and December 2022.

Who can Northern Ireland face?

They will play one team from each of the other pots 1-5 and potentially a team from pot 6, depending which group they are drawn into.

Here are the options:

Pot 1: Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands

Pot 2: Switzerland, Wales, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Slovakia, Romania

Pot 3: Russia, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, Greece, Finland

Pot 4: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Israel, Belarus, Georgia, Luxembourg

Pot 5: Armenia, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Lithuania, Latvia, Andorra

Pot 6: Malta, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, San Marino

What would be the dream group?

Based on the world ranking projections for the next update, set to be released on November 26, here's the best group Northern Ireland can face:

Dream Group: Netherlands, Romania, Northern Ireland, Luxembourg, Andorra, San Marino

While the Netherlands would be no easy tie, no team in Pot 1 provides favourable opposition. Drawing Romania from group two would give Northern Ireland a sizeable chance of securing a runners-up spot, as shown in their two draws during the Nations League campaign

What would be the nightmare scenario?

Again based on the rather dubious world rankings, here's the worst possible outcome:

Nightmare Group: Belgium, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Armenia, Malta

Drawing the world number ones, currently Belgium, is never that much of a winnable tie while Switzerland are the highest ranked side in Pot 1. At least that may whet the appetite for revenge following the contentious play-off defeat to the Swiss in the 2018 World Cup play-offs. Bosnia & Herzegovina would provide stiff contest from Pot 4 and would also be out to write historic wrongs after last month's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final.

Belfast Telegraph


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