The World Cup draw automatically makes the competition feel much closer and gets everybody looking forward to the summer of football. Players and supporters alike will now have the tournament in Russia at the back of their minds as the rest of the season unfolds. This is the same for those in the Europa League, with some players being a vital part of their nation’s team, while others are fighting to maintain a place in the side. The Europa League is providing plenty of players who could make a difference in the tournament and here are the ones to look out for in each group.
Group A: Aleksandr Kokorin Zenit- St Petersburg/Russia
Zenit St Petersburg have impressed in the Europa League this year, as they sit top of their group and Aleksandr Kokorin has been one of their best players. In the Europa League he is only behind Emiliano Rigoni and Andre Silva on the goal scoring charts after scoring five goals and getting one assist although he has played one less game in the competition than those above him.
He wasn’t in the Russia squad for the Confederations Cup earlier this year, but his form for Zenit means that he has been brought back into the side for pre tournament friendlies against the likes of Spain and Argentina. Russia will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders as the host nation and Kokorin will be one of the main players that supporters will be looking to for their goals. If Russia are to progress through a group featuring Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia then Kokorin will need to get in and amongst the goals.
Group B: Andre Silva- AC Milan/Portugal
Andre Silva has failed to make any real impact in Serie A for AC Milan, but he is top of the goal scoring charts alongside Rigoni with six goals and was the man who scored the goal that secured Portugal’s place in the World Cup. Portugal can’t solely rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to score the goals and Silva is the next biggest goal threat they have.
He will have creative sparks such as Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes providing his ammo, so will be far from doing it on his own. However, his performances could be a deciding factor in whether Portugal can overcome Morocco, Iran and their bitter rivals Spain to claim top spot in the group.
Group C: Jefferson Farfan- Lokomotiv Moscow/Peru
Peru have reached the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, but their work is far from over as they face France, Australia and Denmark in the group stages. Getting through this group will be incredibly tough for them, but Farfan has shown multiple times he can come up with heroic goals.
It was Farfan who scored the opening goal in the play off tie against New Zealand which got Peru to the World Cup. He then followed that up exactly a week after by scoring a brace against Copenhagen to get Lokomotiv Moscow into the qualifying places of Europa League Group F with one game to go. Farfan is proving to be a man for the big occasion and the World Cup is the biggest of them all.
Group D: Gylfi Sigurdsson- Everton/Iceland
Gylfi Sigurdsson may not hve been able to prevent Everton’s poor start to the season in both the Premier League and Europa League, but he has been talismanic for Iceland. In qualifying he got an impressive four goals and four assists as his country topped one of the toughest European qualifying groups which included Croatia, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland and Kosovo.
After the exceptional achievement of getting into both the Euros and the World Cup, Iceland will now be looking to get into the knockout stages as they did in France during the Euros in 2016. With Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria in their group it will be a challenge, but Iceland have already shown everyone that they should never be written off.
Group E: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic- Lazio/Serbia
He has only played in a friendly against China for Serbia, but Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s brilliant performances at club level and for Serbia’s youth teams could result in him getting game time at the World Cup. The Lazio may not have much experience of playing for Serbia’s first team but he has had plenty of success with their youth teams, as he was in the Under 19 squad than won the European Championships in 2013 as well as the Under 20 side that won the World Cup in 2015.
The 22 year old has also had success at club level, winning the Serbian Cup in the 2013/14 season with FK Vojvodina Novi Sad as well as the Italian Super Cup with Lazio this campaign. Aside from the trophy, he has impressed both in Serie A and the Europa League this season, with his best game on the European stage coming in a decisive 3-1 win against Nice where the Serbian got two goals and an assist.
Group F: Mesut Ozil- Arsenal/Germany
Mesut Ozil may have his critics but nobody can doubt his talent. He hasn’t actually played in the Europa League so far this season, as Arsene Wenger has opted to play a more youthful side, but as the campaign goes on it is expected that bigger names in the squad such as Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette will start to be used more.
Ozil already has one World Cup win under his belt, as well as 22 goals and 40 assists in 88 matches played for his country. Germany will have one of the strongest midfields in the whole of the World Cup with Ozil lining up alongside the likes of Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, with talent running through the whole of their squad. Germany will be expected to top their group as they face Sweden, Mexico and South Korea and then progress into the latter stages of the competition and if they do so we could see Ozil get plenty of goals and assists on the way.
Group G: Jordan Lukaku- Lazio/Belgium
Jordan Lukaku has been in and out of the Belgium squad, only having eight caps to his name, but he will be hoping that his impressive form at club level will help him force his way into Roberto Martinez’s team. He suffered from various injuries that kept him out of the variety of Belgium’s qualifiers as he only played 21 minutes, which came in a 4-0 win against Bosnia & Herzegovina.
However, Belgium’s use of the 3-4-3 formation could help Jordan Lukaku get into the side as his physical attributes and ability to produce quality at both ends of the pitch make him perfect for the role on the left. He will have a task on his hands to get a place in the starting line up of what is being called Belgium’s golden generation, but he could still make an impact for his country this summer.
Group H: Carlos Bacca- Villarreal/Colombia
Colmbia have a wealth of attacking talent, including Radamel Falcao, Teofilo Gutierrez and Luis Muriel which means Carlos Bacca does not always get into the starting line up. However, the striker is a clinical finisher and even if he doesn’t start games he still has the ability and goal scoring prowess to help out his team.
Bacca showed that he can pop up with important goals during the 2016 Copa America when he scored winners against Paraguay and USA. He has also impressed in the Europa League, playing alongside Cedric Bakambu as he has scored twice and assisted once in four games. Group H could be very tight as Colombia face off against Poland, Senegal and Japan so the Colombians could need someone to come off the bench and make an impact at times; in Carlos Bacca they have one of the best possible men to do that.