Despite Wales’ remarkable climb in the rankings and elevation to top seed for this draw, O’Neill would not be unhappy to draw them as the top seed in Ireland’s group.
England’s other opponents are Slovakia – rather than Italy and France who were in the same pot – Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.
“It is nice to have a freshness and, on top of that, we have England”.
From the Scottish perspective, the initial reaction was a belief that they could defeat the Auld Enemy to clinch automatic qualification from the group themselves (memories of last year’s friendly at Celtic Park, when England were comfortable winners, apparently did not live long).
The matches against England are already hotly anticipated but the rest of the draw puts the national team up against some interesting opposition.
We’ve looked at Ireland’s best and worst case scenario qualifying group, as well as a potential outside chance.
The draw took place in St Petersburg in a lengthy ceremony that had all the makings of a classical Federation Internationale de Football Association ceremony.
The two matches between the sides on the road to Russian Federation will not be the first time they have competed for a place at the World Cup, with the old Home Nations championship having doubled up as a qualifying competition in 1950 and 1954.
The optimism this time around was based to a considerable extent on the fact that, even allowing for the world champions coasting home, another team would qualify automatically with a third making it to play-offs. Games will be played from September 2016 to October 2017.
The Northern Ireland boss revealed on Friday that he is open to the possibility of staying for the World Cup campaign.
Yes we held our own and gained a draw in our current qualifying campaign with the Germans, but their qualifying record is simply enormous. We have got recent experience of what the atmosphere will be like.
United States will face Trinidad and Tobago in Group C, while Patrick Kluivert’s maiden qualification draw with Curacao could see them take on Honduras and Mexico if they get past El Salvador.
Due to Ireland’s slide down the world rankings since Euro 2012, from 22 in 2011, to 67 last year and now 52, the country will be seeded fourth.
Group D: Wales, Austria, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Moldova, Georgia.?Group E: Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan.?Group F: England, Slovakia, Scotland, Malta, Lithuania, Slovenia.?Group G: Spain, Italy, Albania, Israel, Macedonia, Liechtenstein.?Group H: Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus.?Group I: Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland. Any group with Germany in it is going to be hard but it’s going to be exciting.
But many eyes will also be on what is expected to be Ibrahimovic’s final bid to appear in a World Cup after he was outgunned by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo in a playoff to qualify for Brazil two years ago.