World Cup 2018: Northern Ireland start campaign against Czechs

A Czech Republic player tackles NI's Grant McCann in the 2010 World Cup qualifier in Prague
A Czech Republic player tackles NI's Grant McCann in the 2010 World Cup qualifier in Prague

Northern Ireland will open their World Cup 2018 qualifiers away to the Czech Republic on 4 September, 2016.

World Cup champions Germany will host Michael O'Neill's team on 11 October next year with the final Group C qualifier in Norway on 8 October, 2017.

"Germany will be expected to finish first but we'll be in the running for second place," said NI boss O'Neill.

The Republic of Ireland start away to Serbia on 5 September and they will face Wales in Dublin on 24 March, 2017.

Northern Ireland also take on Azerbaijan and San Marino in the qualifiers as they aim for a place in the finals in Russia.

The immediate focus for Northern Ireland is securing a place in the Euro 2016 finals and they are on course to make the trip to France, sitting second in their qualifying group behind Romania.

Northern Ireland's Group C qualifiers
Czech Republic (away)Sunday, 4 September 2016
San Marino (home)Saturday, 8 October 2016
Germany (away)Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Azerbaijan (home)Friday, 11 November 2016
Norway (home)Sunday, 26 March 2017
Azerbaijan (away)Saturday, 10 June 2017
San Marino (away)Friday, 1 September 2017
Czech Republic (home)Monday, 4 September 2017
Germany (home)Thursday, 5 October 2017
Norway (away)Sunday, 8 October 2017

"It's a decent draw for us and it is a group we can be competitive in," O'Neill told the Sunday Life.

"The Czech Republic are a quality side and they always have stand-out individual talent so those will be tough games.

"Norway I don't think are as good as they used to be but I'll need to watch how they get on in the Euro qualifiers.

"A lot will depend on whether we reach the finals in France next year - if we do, then we go into the World Cup qualifiers with a great deal of momentum."

The Republic were handed a favourable draw with Austria, Georgia and Moldova providing the remainder of their Group D opposition.

Republic of Ireland's Group D qualifiers
Serbia (away)Monday, 5 September 2016
Georgia (home)Thursday, 6 October 2016
Moldova (away)Sunday, 9 October 2016
Austria (away)Saturday, 12 November 2016
Wales (home)Friday, 24 March 2017
Austria (home)Sunday, 11 June 2017
Georgia (away)Saturday, 2 September 2017
Serbia (home)Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Moldova (home)Friday, 6 October 2017
Wales (away)Monday, 9 October 2017

Wales are top seeds and the Republic will be up against Chris Coleman's side in the final qualifier in Cardiff.

"Wales are going very well in the European Championship qualifiers - they're almost already there," said Republic manager Martin O'Neill.

"I think them having jumped from fifth seeds to first seeds, I think they'll be pretty pleased.

"But, you know, we've got a chance. We know the Welsh players inside out and Austria are going strongly themselves but it's a group I think a lot of teams would be pleased to be in, including Wales and Austria."

Top Stories