Belfast Telegraph

Vote: Who do you want Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland to face in the World Cup play-offs?

And a look at the four options to educate your pick

By Liam Blackburn and Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will both be unseeded for next week's World Cup play-off draw, when they will learn if they will face either Switzerland, Italy, Croatia or Denmark.

Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill's teams both finished as one of the eight best group runners-up to ensure they are just a two-legged tie away from making it through to join England in Russia next summer.

However, their task has been made harder by the fact the draw for those play-offs, which will take place in Zurich on October 17, will be seeded based on the world rankings published a day earlier.

Who are the seeded and unseeded teams?

It is already possible to project the October 16th World Rankings so we know that Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Denmark will be the four highest, meaning they will be seeded, while Northern Ireland, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and Greece will not.

Does that mean the Northern Irish and Irish teams will be away in the second leg?

No. The seeded team will not necessarily have their home leg second, as there is a separate draw to determine which countries are at home first.

The first legs will be staged between November 9 and 11, with the return fixtures hosted over the following three days.

Which of the four seeded teams do we want to avoid?

Well that's rather difficult to say. None of them will be easy. Here's a look at all four and you can make your own mind up before you vote:

SWITZERLAND

World Ranking (Current and projected in brackets): 7 (11)

Star player: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)

Form: They had won all nine of their World Cup qualifiers before running into Portugal on Tuesday night, when the Euro 2016 champions' 2-0 victory saw them take Group B's top spot. You can bet the unseeded teams are grateful the possibility of facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Co has been taken off the table, and Ireland did beat the Swiss in a friendly in March last year.

ITALY

World Ranking: 17 (15)

Star player: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

Form: Italy are only in this section because they had the misfortune of drawing Spain in Group G. Dropped only seven points in qualification - five of those to Spain. The four-time World Cup winners were beaten by the Republic at Euro 2016, though it was an Italian team featuring eight changes as their qualification for the knock-out stages had already been confirmed. With Portugal out of the equation, they are the biggest name in this draw. 

CROATIA

World Ranking: 18 (18)

Star player: Luka Modrić (Real Madrid)

Form: Were in danger of becoming the one runner-up that missed out on the play-offs before beating Ukraine in their final group game. Croatia had a tough group that also featured Iceland and Turkey. Lost away to both Iceland and Turkey but picked up the vital victory on the road when it mattered against Ukraine. They were impressive in winning 3-0 against the Northern Irish in Belfast last November, and they did so without the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic.

DENMARK

World Ranking: 26 (19)

Star player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)

Form: The Euro 1992 winners may be the team all the unseeded ones are hopeful of being drawn against, yet by the time they next play it will be over a year since they last tasted defeat, which is why their ranking will be so high later this month. They're unbeaten in seven competitive games and during that time they have beaten Poland 4-0 and drawn with world champions Germany. The Danes have only reached one World Cup finals since 2002. 

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