There are less than two months of the English football league season remaining, and for some, their attention must already be turning to this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia. Although most wouldn’t like to admit it publicly, those on the cusp of selection for the plane to Russia will be focusing firmly on their performances to catch the eye of their respective national team coaches. Here are five football league pros looking to prolong their 2017/18 campaign with an appearance at the 2018 World Cup.
Abel Hernandez (Hull City) – Abel Hernandez has endured a nightmare 2017/18, having spent the last seven months in rehab following a ruptured Achilles tendon injury. The Uruguayan is back in the fold with the Tigers now and played an integral part in City’s recent 4-3 come-from-behind win over Norwich to breathe new life into their survival bid. Hernandez probably hopes his return will not go unnoticed with the Uruguayan national team, who finished second to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals this summer. At 33/1, Uruguay’s odds for World Cup 2018 seem reasonable a value given that they have the easiest group on paper, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and hosts Russia for company in Group A.
Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich Town) – 30-year-old Polish stopper Bartosz Bialkowski has been the Tractor Boys’ player of the season for the last two successive years. His arrival on a free transfer from Notts County was largely on the quiet, but the former Southampton stopper has grown into his role as the Blues’ number one. His majestic shot-stopping ability and presence have caught the eye of Poland manager Adam Nawalka, who watched Bialkowski in action in Town’s recent goalless draw at home against Burton. Bialkowski has been called up to Poland’s senior squad for warm-up friendlies and will be hoping to do enough to be considered for the plane to Russia.
Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa) – Wily attacking full-back Ahmed Elmohamady has played a key role in Aston Villa’s promotion push this season. Villa boss Steve Bruce has signed Elmohamady on three separate occasions: at Sunderland, Hull and now with Villa; such is the faith he has in the 30-year-old. A consistent performer, Elmohamady has 74 caps for Egypt and will be a constant outlet for the Egyptians on the right-hand flank in a Group A that’s wide open. Elmohamady could face former Tigers teammate, Abel Hernandez, given that Egypt is in the same group as Uruguay.
Jackson Irvine (Hull City) – Another player with Hull City connections could play a pivotal role for their country this summer. Australian playmaker Jackson Irvine has slotted in quite nicely with the Tigers, playing just behind lone striker Fraizer Campbell on many occasions. Irvine has earned his stripes after a string of loan spells in the Scottish Premiership League with Kilmarnock and Ross County before a permanent spot at County earned him a crack at life in the championship with Burton Albion. Irvine played a pivotal role in Albion’s survival, bagging 10 goals and a switch to Hull last summer. His forward-thinking instincts will be crucial to the Socceroos’ chances of getting out of their group, with Peru and Denmark for company.
Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson (Bristol City) – Left-footed Icelandic defender Hordur Magnusson has taken some time to cement a place in the Robins’ starting 11, but the 25-year-old looks set to feature heavily between now and the summer. The former Juventus youngster nearly left Ashton Gate in the January transfer window, with Russian Premier League outfit Rostov keen a permanent switch, along with Serie A minnows SPAL. However, City supremo Lee Johnson has played Magnusson more often in recent weeks due to Joe Bryan being pushed into a more attack-minded role. The imposing left-footer could face one of the all-time greats of world football in the shape of Lionel Messi’s Argentina as well as Croatia and Nigeria.
As ever, major championships often throw up unexpected heroes. It also provides a platform for emerging talent to express themselves and display their potential on the global stage. What is clear is that the English Football League and the championship is no longer a barrier to securing national selection, given its reputation as the most competitive second-tier league on the planet — and arguably more competitive than many top-tier leagues throughout Europe.