Being in pot one for the World Cup 2018 draw was seen as a beneficial scenario to Wales fans, as it meant that they had the chance to see which groups they wanted to avoid before being drawn. Others were more sceptical of the position for the same reason — Wales could have been placed in a nightmare group at the very last capsule opening. Regardless, the draw was kind and the Welsh FA will be pleased with their group despite some challenging fixtures.
Wales’ World Cup Qualification Chances
Current FIFA Ranking: 124
Home Fixture: 05/09/2016
Away Fixture: 05/09/2017
Wales begin their qualifying campaign against minnows Moldova on Monday 5th September 2016 at home. Based on both nations’ current rankings and form, Wales will be expecting an easy three points. As low as Moldova’s FIFA world ranking maybe they have a few dangerous players who could cause an upset to Wales. Their captain, Alexandru Epureanu, plays for Turkish club Instanbul Basaksehir and has scored eight goals in 68 appearances for his country.
Their most prolific striker on present record is Viorel Frunzel, scorer of seven goals in 36 national appearances. The return fixture takes place exactly one year later in the Zimbru Stadium in the capital city of Chisinau. Their current manager Alexandru Curtianu has had little success in the Euro 2016 qualifiers with four defeats and two draws, one being a respectable 1-1 draw with World Cup hosts Russia. Moldolva have never qualified for the World Cup finals and it is highly unlikely that record will be broken.
Current FIFA Ranking: 15
Away Fixture: 06/10/2016
Home Fixture: 02/07/2017
Wales’ second qualifying match is against Austria who will prove to be one of the toughest challenges. A tough defence awaits the Welsh. They conceded just two goals in their six European qualifier thanks to stern defenders such as their captain and Leicester City player Christian Fuchs. Bayern Munich’s David Alaba is a player to watch. He has scored nine international goals in a short career and a decent attacking frontline will greet Wales with the first fixture taking place in Vienna at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion on Thursday 6th October.
The return home leg takes place on Saturday 2nd September, which will bring a difficult spell of qualifying to an end with some key games taking place in and around the summer of 2017. Top scorer Marc Janko has scored 21 goals in 46 international appearances for Austria and the Basel forward will be hoping to take his respectable form of three goals so far in the Euro qualifiers into what will most likely be his last tournament qualification: he is 32 and the games begin at the end of 2016. Swiss-born manager Marcel Koller has done a fine job leading the team to 15 wins out of his 30 matches in charge and will prove a dangerous opponent in the battle for the top qualification spots.
Current FIFA Ranking: 153
Home Fixture: 09/10/2016
Away Fixture: 06/10/2017
Georgia will be Wales’ third opposition in qualifying and are the lowest-ranked team in Group D. Thus Wales will be expecting to pick six points off them during qualifying. Georgia’s poor form in the European qualifiers has not helped their drop to 153 in the world; they have conceded 13 goals in their six matches so far. Kakhaber Tshadadze’s appointment as manager has seen little change in the team’s form. They have lost their last three qualifiers without scoring a goal.
With little offered up front, Genk midfielder Tomike Okriashvili has peen prolific in comparison to the remainder of the squad. Georgia have never qualified for the World Cup finals and with their current form an issue it is unlikely that there will be a change in fortunes.
Current FIFA Ranking: 43
Home Fixture: 12/11/2016
Away Fixture: 11/06/2017
Serbia will travel to Wales on Saturday 12th November and have the most recognized squad in Group D with several Premier League players including Bransilav Ivanovic the long-serving Chelsea full-back and club team-mate Nemanja Matic playing in front of the defence. Liverpool’s Lazar Markovic, Manchester City’s Aleksander Kolorov and Newcastle United’s new £13 million striker Aleksander Mitovic make up the notable performers.
Despite not winning a single match and losing their last four games on the bounce in Euro 2016 qualifying, they are a strong side and manager Radovan Curcic will be looking for a vast improvement to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. With classy midfielders such as CSKA Moscow’s Zoran Tosic boasting 10 goals in 68 appearances it should not be too long before form changes.
Republic of Ireland
Current FIFA Ranking: 52
Away Fixture: 24/03/2017
Home Fixture: 09/10/2017
The Welsh fans will no doubt already be looking to book their lodgings in Dublin for March 2017. The return fixture in October will be the last qualifying match and could already have sealed either team’s fate in their qualifying hopes. They last qualified for the Japan World Cup in 2002, reaching the Last 16 and fans and squad alike will be hoping to recreate that form.
Martin O’Neill has led the Republic of Ireland to two victories in the Euro 2016 qualifiers including a seven-nil thrashing of the newly recognized Gibraltar. LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane has been their most prolific striker with an astounding 65 goals in 140 appearances but at the age of 35 he may not be around to help Ireland with their next campaign.
The World Cup draw could have been far crueller to Wales. As the highest-ranked team in Group D they will not compete with their traditional reputation of underdogs as they turn into credible contenders for qualification.
Manager Chris Coleman is due recognition for his leadership in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with many doubting his ability prior to his appointment as head coach. However, the qualifying campaign has re-ignited support for the Welsh football team and its change in playing style all brought about by Welsh legend Gary Speed before his tragic death. That mantra was continued by Chris Coleman and in-form players such as Gareth Bale, who is in blistering form for Wales, and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey.
Before Wales begin their World Cup campaign they will be looking to secure qualification for Euro 2016 having already taken four points from the third ranked team in the world, Belgium.Their final games are against Cyprus away, Israel home, Bosnia and Herzegovina away and Andorra at home.
Wales have the potential to qualify for back-to-back national tournaments for the first time in their history with their only qualification for a competition coming for the 1958 World Cup host. It is an exciting time to be a Welsh fan and the team’s supporters will no doubt be hoping for more qualification success.