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Here's everything you need to know about today's 2018 World Cup qualifying draw

Ireland are one of 141 countries awaiting their fate.

Head of World Cup Qualifiers Gordon Savic will come into his own on Saturday.
Head of World Cup Qualifiers Gordon Savic will come into his own on Saturday.
Image: Joshua Paul

WE MAY ONLY be a little over halfway through the qualifying campaign for next summer’s European Championships but Ireland’s path to the 2018 World Cup will become a whole lot clearer come this evening.

Billed as the day 141 countries from all over the world discover their destiny by Fifa, the draw for the qualifying stage of the 2018 World Cup will take place in St Petersburg this weekend.

Martin O’Neill’s side face an uphill task to book their ticket for Euro 2016 in France and an underwhelming qualification campaign for that tournament has had a knock-on effect on Ireland’s chances of securing a favourable draw.

For the first time since 1990, the Boys in Green will be fourth seeds for a World Cup qualifying draw and subsequently face the prospect of being paired with three of Europe’s heavyweights.

The build-up to the draw has been somewhat overshadowed by the enduring turmoil engulfing Fifa and it’s expected the beginning of Russia’s staging of football’s flagship event will be to a backdrop of further protests.

Nonetheless, there’s important business to be done and here’s everything you need to know about the draw.

When and where is it?

The 2018 World Cup qualifying draw takes place in Konstantin Palace, St Petersburg at 4pm Irish time.

Russia G20 Summit The plush surroundings of Konstantin Palace is the venue for the draw. Source: AP/Press Association Images

It will be presented by Natalia Vodianova – a Russian supermodel – and television presenter Dmitry Shepelev.

There will be some familiar faces on hand throughout with Ronaldo, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan, Samuel Eto’o, Madjer, Oliver Bierhoff and Hulk among the ‘draw assistants’.

How does it work?

The draw will determine who plays who in the various qualifying competitions for the next World Cup. 141 teams from the five confederations (Africa, Asia, Europe, North, Central America and Caribbean, Oceania and South America) will all be anxiously waiting to discover their fate as the road to Russia begins in earnest.

Here’s the breakdown of qualification berths on offer in each region.

  • Africa: 5
  • Asia: 4.5
  • Europe: 13
  • North, Central America and Caribbean: 3.5
  • Oceania: 0.5
  • South America: 4.5

Regions with half a place will see one of their countries enter an intercontinental play-off at the final stage of qualifying to determine the final make-up of the 32 teams who will be in Russia in three years time.

What about Europe?

Right, let’s cut to the chase.

Soccer - Soccer - UEFA European Championship Qualifying - Group D - Republic of Ireland v Scotland - Aviva Stadium Ireland are in pot four after dropping down the Fifa rankings. Source: Niall Carson

Ireland are one of 52 Uefa associations in the European draw. Russia, as holders, are automatically guaranteed a place at the World Cup while Gibraltar – who are in Ireland’s current Euro 2016 qualifying group – aren’t eligible as they’re not a member of Fifa.

So it all means there will be seven groups of six and two groups of five.

Uefa have requested that England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands are each drawn in a six-team group because of broadcasting and television deals.

Furthermore, Azerbaijan and Armenia cannot be drawn alongside each other because of the current political climate between the two countries.

Not to be getting ahead of ourselves but the nine group winners will automatically qualify while eight runners-up will earn a place in the play-offs. The one runner-up to miss out will be determined by a sides’ record against the teams that finish first, third, fourth and fifth in their group.

Who can Ireland be drawn with?

As mentioned above, Ireland’s free fall down the Fifa world rankings has had a significant bearing on their seeding for the draw.

Pot one: Germany, Belgium, Holland, Romania, England, Wales, Portugal, Spain, Croatia.
Pot two: Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Pot three: Poland, Ukraine, Scotland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Greece.
Pot four: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia.
Pot five: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova.
Pot six: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra.

Soccer - FIFA Executive Committee Meeting - FIFA Headquarters Zurich Sepp Blatter is expected to be present despite the incident at Fifa headquarters during the week. Source: PA Wire

Where can I watch the draw?

Live coverage of the draw is available on RTÉ 2 from 3.55pm but, as you can imagine, it will be a tedious affair. The European draw is scheduled to take place after Africa so should begin relatively soon after proceedings get underway.

When does qualifying actually start?

The European group stages take place between September 2016 and October 2017 with each team playing each other home and away. The playoffs will then be played in November 2017.

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Ryan Bailey

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