Wales and Romania seeded in World Cup qualifying draw
Gareth Bale's winning goal against Belgium on Friday fired Wales to the brink of qualification for Euro 2016 -- and guaranteed Chris Coleman's side a place among the seeds in next month's World Cup qualifying draw.
Wales will not be the only surprise name with Romania also appearing in the top pot as one of the nine top-rated European nations in FIFA's World Ranking.
It is a remarkable rise for two nations who have seldom qualified for a place at football's top table. While Romania, who knew they would be seeded before last weekend's games, did enjoy qualifying consistently for both the World Cup and the European Championship through the 1990s, they have made it to only one finals, Euro 2008, since 2000.
Wales have only ever qualified for one major finals, when they appeared at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. As revealed by ESPN FC on Friday, Wales were assured of being seeded for the World Cup should they beat Belgium, ranked 2nd in the world by FIFA, and Bale provided the victory.
As recently as 2011, Wales were ranked 117th by FIFA and could be up in ninth depending on results in the Copa America. Romania were 57th three years ago and are in line to be ranked 7th.
Their meteoric rise is largely due to consistently good results in competitive internationals, which sees both nations top of their Euro 2016 qualifying groups with unbeaten records.
Added to that, nations who appeared at Euro 2012 will lose 10 percent of coefficient points earned (now weighted at just 20 percent), while teams who played at last year's World Cup will have the points gained from that tournament halved. It means that nations such as Romania and Wales, who were at neither tournament, gain a net benefit against almost every other team at the top end of the Ranking.
The other seeded nations in the World Cup draw will be Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Portugal, Spain and either Croatia or Italy. Italy must beat Portugal in an international friendly on Tuesday evening otherwise they will be in pot 2, with Croatia seeded in their place.
Updated FIFA World Ranking for European nations. 1. Germany, 2. Belgium, 3. Netherlands, 4. Romania, 5. England, 6. Wales, 7. Portugal- Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) June 14, 2015
With France already in pot 2, it could be that there is at least one heavyweight group with only the nation which finishes first qualifying directly for Russia 2018.
The other major surprise in the Ranking is the rise of Faroe Islands, perennially a pot 6 nation who have recorded a remarkable run of results, including back to back wins over Greece. It means they will slot into pot 4, placing them on a par with Turkey, Republic of Ireland and Norway. They were ranked 187th last year but will enter the top 100 next month.
Poland's decision to play a friendly against Greece on Tuesday lowers their coefficient to condemn them to pot 3. If they had not arranged the friendly they would have been in pot 2, but instead Bosnia-Herzegovina are in the higher pot.
The pots are decided using the July FIFA Ranking, which takes into account games played until July 5 and is released officially on July 9. The World Cup qualifying draw takes place in St Petersburg on July 25.
Pot 1: Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, England, Wales, Portugal, Spain, Croatia/Italy
Pot 2: Croatia/Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Pot 3: Poland, Ukraine, Scotland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, N Ireland, Serbia, Greece
Pot 4: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia
Pot 5: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova
Pot 6: Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.