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ESPN FC  By Dale Johnson

Italy could be unseeded in World Cup qualifying, chance for Wales

Italy face a huge Euro 2016 qualifier in Croatia on Friday night and the game could have massive implications on their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup next summer.

The two nations meet in Split holding the two automatic qualification places in Group H, while Italy have a two-point advantage over third-placed Norway, who host Azerbaijan.

But if Italy lose the game they are almost certain to miss out on being one of the top seeds in next month's UEFA World Cup qualifying draw, meaning they could be drawn with the likes of Germany and Spain with only the group winners guaranteed to make it to Russia 2018.

The draw, which takes place on July 25, is expected to use the next FIFA Ranking to create pots. And with Croatia and Italy closely matched, the result of this week's game will have a direct influence on the pots for World Cup qualifying.

The winner of the game is guaranteed to be one of the nine seeds in the World Cup draw, along with Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and, surprisingly, Romania. The other places in the top pot will be governed by results elsewhere, but England, Portugal and Spain are all but certain to be in pot 1.

Italy coach Antonio Conte is effectively playing for two things on Friday.

There is a scenario whereby both Italy (who would need to beat Portugal next week) and Croatia could be seeded if they draw on Friday, but a loser will likely be in pot 2.

With France already guaranteed to be in pot 2, there could be a couple of heavyweight qualification groups if Italy also fail to take a place among the seeds. It would be the second time in quick succession that results just before a draw have cost Italy, as they also missed out on being seeded for the 2014 World Cup finals.

Wales' superb upturn in form, which has seen them climb up to 22nd in the FIFA Rankings, would move to a remarkable new level should they win at home to Belgium. Victory against the team currently ranked 2nd by FIFA would earn Chris Coleman's men enough co-efficient points to be guaranteed World Cup qualifying top seeding.

Czech Republic are the only other nation with a realistic hope of forcing their way into the seeds, though they travel to Iceland who must win to be in pot 2. Slovakia, Switzerland and Austria have very slim hopes of pot 1.

Republic of Ireland and Scotland face a big game for a place at Euro 2016, while the Irish also need a win to be in pot 3 for World Cup qualifying and Scotland requiring the victory to take a place in pot 2.

Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 17 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.

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