The road to Qatar 2022 was set to take shape on Monday, with the virtual draw for World Cup qualifying taking place in Zurich.
The seedings for the European section of qualification for Qatar 2022 were confirmed at the end of November and enticingly left open the possibility of some old rivalries being renewed.
England could find themselves in a group with Wales and one of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or Scotland, with Gareth Southgate’s team in the top pot of seeds alongside the world’s number one-ranked team Belgium and reigning world champions France.
Wales are in pot two, where other dangerous potential opponents for the Three Lions include Poland, led by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. Northern Ireland, the Republic and Scotland are all in pot three.
England first faced Wales in 1879, with their most recent competitive meeting coming at the finals of Euro 2016 where England won 2-1. They have not faced Northern Ireland since a shock defeat at Windsor Park in qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
England beat the Republic 3-0 in a friendly in November, but have not been in competitive action since a 1991 qualifier for the following year’s European Championship.
England and Scotland last met in a World Cup qualifier in 2017 for the last finals in Russia two years ago. They will also meet at the group stage of Euro 2020 next summer after Scotland qualified via the play-offs.
In total, 55 teams will be split into five groups of five and five groups of six when the draw takes place at 5pm GMT. The qualifiers will be played between March and November next year.
The winners of the 10 groups will qualify automatically for the finals, which for the first time will be played in November and December of 2022 to avoid the punishing summer heat in the Middle East.
A further three places will be fought out between the 10 group runners-up and the two highest-ranked teams from the Nations League who have not already qualified or finished in a runners-up spot.
These 12 teams will be divided into three play-off paths, each featuring four countries, to determine the final three European berths.
Caretaker manager Robert Page will conduct media duties for Wales following the draw, with uncertainty lingering over the future of Ryan Giggs.
Page was in interim charge last month as Wales beat the Republic of Ireland and Finland to secure promotion to the top tier of the Nations League and confirm their place in pot two.
Giggs was absent for Wales’ November games after being arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend at his Manchester home on November 1.
The 47-year-old, who denies all allegations of assault, has been rebailed until February 1 amid an ongoing Greater Manchester Police investigation.