NI re­write record books by mov­ing to new high of 20 in world rank­ings

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - BY ADAM McKENDRY

NORTH­ERN Ire­land have cracked the top 20 of the Fifa World Rank­ings for the first time in their his­tory fol­low­ing their wins over San Marino and the Czech Repub­lic.

Michael O’Neill’s men sit 20th af­ter the lat­est rank­ings were re­leased, sig­ni­fy­ing one of the most re­mark­able rises in world foot­ball.

Since O’Neill took over in De­cem­ber 2011, North­ern Ire­land have soared up the rank­ings, climb­ing 109 places from 129th all the way to their cur­rent po­si­tion.

It’s no more than the na­tional team de­serve af­ter another su­perb qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign af­ter mak­ing it to Euro 2016 last year.

O’Neill’s men all but guar­an­teed them­selves a play-off spot for next year’s World Cup with their re­cent vic­to­ries, and this rise also means they are more likely to be seeded for that po­ten­tial tie.

With Ice­land and Swe­den both fall­ing out of the top 20, it means two of the other po­ten­tial seeds now rank be­low North­ern Ire­land.

The Repub­lic of Ire­land fell a dis­ap­point­ing five places in the lat­est rank­ings af­ter their draw with Georgia and home loss to Ser­bia. Martin O’Neill’s men now oc­cupy 34th place.

Wales are the best ranked home na­tion af­ter they moved up five places to 13th with wins over Aus­tria and Moldova in the lat­est World Cup qual­i­fiers.

Eng­land fall be­low them, drop­ping two places and sit­ting in 15th de­spite win­ning both of their qual­i­fiers against Malta and Slo­vakia.

And Scot­land made a re­mark­able resur­gence, climb­ing 15 places in the rank­ings with two wins over Lithua­nia and Malta, im­prov­ing to 43rd.

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