Football: Wales among top seeds for World Cup qualifying draw

LONDON (REUTERS) - Wales are among the top European seeds for the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw, after being ranked as one of Uefa's top nine teams for the football tournament.

Chris Coleman's side, top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group B, will be in Pot 1 when Uefa's 2018 World Cup qualifiers draw is made in St Petersburg on July 25, meaning they will avoid the likes of fellow top seeds Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

England, Romania and Croatia are also named as top seeds but 1998 World Cup winners France and Italy, triumphant in 2006, are among the second qualification seeds for Russia 2018 along with Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Denmark, Iceland, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Wales, who shot up 12 places to 10th in the July Fifa rankings, entering the top 10 for the first time in history, have only qualified for a major international tournament once in their history, when they reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup before losing to Brazil.

Gareth Bale's goal secured a 1-0 win over Belgium in a Euro 2016 qualifier in June and they are three points clear at the top of Group B with four games remaining.

Russia qualify automatically as hosts, while the remaining 52 European teams will be involved in the preliminary draw and will be put into seven groups of six teams and two groups of five teams according to the Fifa rankings of July 2015.

Each team will play each other home and away between Sept 4, 2016 and Oct 10, 2017, while Uefa have requested that England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands must be drawn into a group containing six teams.

The nine group winners will qualify for Russia 2018, while the eight best group-runners up will take part in play-offs in November 2017.