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ESPN FC  By Dale Johnson

Italy face must-win game against Portugal for World Cup seeding

Italy face Portugal in an international friendly on Tuesday evening which could have huge implications on their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Antonio Conte's Italy currently find themselves outside the top nine of European nations in the next FIFA Ranking, which will be published on July 9. It means they face being unseeded the World Cup qualifying draw in St Petersburg on July 25.

Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, England, Wales, Portugal and Spain are all assured of being top seeds, with Croatia currently holding ninth place with a coefficient score of 1,023.

Even though Italy reached the final of the European Championship in 2012, the coefficient points from that tournament will only be worth 20 percent of the total score. And Italy's dismal record in international friendlies means they are struggling to be seeded despite being undefeated in qualifying for Euro 2016.

The only way Italy can climb above Croatia is by beating Portugal, who will be without Cristiano Ronaldo for the game in Geneva. Italy are currently on 1,001 points and a draw against Portugal would still leave them in 10th place on 1,020. But a win will lift them above Croatia to 1,058 points, and into the top seeds.

Antonio Conte's Italy could face a difficult draw if they fail to beat Portugal.

France are already guaranteed to be in pot 2, and the presence of Italy will increase the chances of there being heavyweight groups in European qualifying. Only the nation which finishes first in the group is guaranteed to qualify for Russia 2018

The pots for the draw will be as follows, with just the Croatia/Italy situation yet to be resolved.

Pot 1: Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, England, Wales, Portugal, Spain, Croatia/Italy

Pot 2: Croatia/Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Pot 3: Poland, Ukraine, Scotland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, N Ireland, Serbia, Greece

Pot 4: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia

Pot 5: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova

Pot 6: Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra

Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.

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