Who could Wales face in 2018 World Cup qualification?

By Rob PhillipsBBC Wales football correspondent
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Footballing aristocracy will gather at the Konstantin Palace, St Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday as the groups for the preliminary round draw for the 2018 World Cup are decided.

It is the most-anticipated draw Welsh football fans have experienced. For the first time, Wales have a prime seat at the table - among the top seeds for the European section after a remarkable rise under manager Chris Coleman has put them 10th in the world.

Wales are, of course, in pole position to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals as leaders of qualifying Group B, with the next European matches in early September comprising Cyprus away then at home to Israel.

This form has given Wales elevated status at a draw in which Brazilian World Cup winners Ronaldo and legendary Italian winning captain Fabio Cannavaro are among the ''assistants.'' It's almost Dream Land - but not quite.

Wales will avoid the likes of world champions Germany and European champions Spain by virtue of being in pot one, however, they could potentially be drawn against former World Cup winners France and Italy because these countries are in pot two.

Even with the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey at his disposal, Coleman will be aware that plenty of lower-placed teams will see Wales as their favoured option to draw from pot one.

So, given that Russia go through automatically as hosts, who could Wales draw?

Teams to avoid

pot one info

Aside from past winners Italy and France, Wales may want to avoid Slovakia and Austria - the highest-ranked second seeds.

Iceland, driven by Swansea City's Gylfi Sigurdsson and Cardiff City's Aron Gunnarsson are also potential opponents from pot two and currently top their Euro 2016 qualification group ahead of the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

So it may be better the devil you know and Wales would prefer to meet one of their current Euro 2016 rivals, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A chance for revenge?

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Northern Ireland and Scotland are among the third seeds. Logistically they would be ideal and the Tartan Army travel in numbers, but both are improving.

Serbia are currently bottom of their Euro 2016 qualification group, but humbled Wales 6-1 in the last World Cup campaign. However revenge might seem sweet for Coleman as the defeat was a low point of his reign.

Poland and Ukraine look like the teams to avoid.

Indeed, the third seed everyone will want is surely Greece. Away games there may be hostile, but their European rivals Faroe Isles seemed to manage and have already chalked up a double over the Greeks, who prop up Euro 2016 qualifying group F.

Potential pot four foes

World Cup draw

Drawing fourth seeds Norway would be poignant, as they were the opponents in the late Gary Speed's last game as Wales manager. Republic of Ireland would make travelling easy, Turkey are the team to miss.

A rematch with Israel would hold few fears for Coleman after Wales' stunning 3-0 Euro 2016 qualifying win in Haifa, in March.

Estonia or Slovenia would probably be ideal, since Wales' record against Montenegro includes two defeats to just one win.

New horizons?

Fellow Euro Group B competitors Cyprus are the highest seeds in pot five and a trip to Nicosia would probably go down well with Welsh fans.

Yet former Wales boss John Toshack and Coleman both know they can be awkward customers.

Lithuania would be a new experience for Wales, since they are one of the three European nations Wales have never played.

2018 World Cup draw seedings

And you can guarantee if Wales are drawn against Macedonia , Coleman will take better care of his passport, since he lost it and arrived later than the squad to the capital Skopje for the defeat against them in September 2013.

Wales should be frightened of no-one in this pot, but Azerbaijan is the most testing logistically.

Lithuania appear ideal, if only to chalk up another venue for the growing band of intrepid Wales fans.

Whipping boys

Andorra are the lowest seeds, ranked 202 in the world, but the mountain-top state provided trying opposition in Wales' opening Euro 2016 encounter.

Andorra led 1-0 at half time, before Bale scored twice to rescue Wales from an embarrassing result.

Kazakhstan are another side who Wales have never faced, the third of the trio are Gibraltar, who are not competing.

But Coleman probably would prefer to avoid a long trip to travel to either Malta, San Marino and Andorra.

And, Wales will be hoping that the pitch will be better after their complaints about the 3G surface at Andorra la Vella last time.