Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill's boys are going up in the World

NI to rise to 20th in rankings and could be play-off seeds

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland will move a huge step closer to the World Cup finals in Russia should they keep hitting the heights of their latest Fifa ranking, which will be confirmed next week.

Michael O'Neill's side could be a highest-ever ranking of 20th when the new list is published next Thursday and that means they are on track to be seeded for November's play-off, giving them a much better chance of progressing to the finals next summer.

The next rankings after Thursday will be released on October 16 after Northern Ireland face Germany at Windsor Park and Norway in Oslo.

And should O'Neill's men maintain a high ranking compared to the other teams in the play-offs, they will be seeded for the draw which will take place on October 17 in Zurich.

Northern Ireland, who are guaranteed to finish at least second in Group C, will avoid big hitters such as Portugal and Italy if seeded.

While those two countries will take the top two seeds, Iceland (Group I) and Sweden (Group A) are higher ranked than Northern Ireland ahead of next week's updated list - but the men in green should overtake both after their results over the recent games.

Fifa's website has calculated that Northern Ireland's wins over San Marino and Czech Republic will see then move up to 945 ranking points, leapfrogging Iceland on 932, Sweden on 918 and Costa Rica on 936.

Northern Ireland will NOT be seeded if four other teams in the play-offs are ranked higher on October 16.

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