Amidst the many subplots in the contest, the fortunes and the futures of the two Nigeria internationals set to be involved in the contest will be followed closely in West Africa.
The situation of Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively has certainly got observers talking lately, especially for the former, who was on the bench as the Pensioners mauled Qarabag 6-0 in their Champions League curtain-raiser in midweek.
Even more concerning for Moses would have been the impressive home debut of deadline-day signing Davide Zappacosta, whose stunning strike against the Azeri champions capped what was a brilliant all-round performance.
Of course, nothing is set in stone, and the dreadlocked wideman remains first-choice starter on the right, but for how much longer?
You get the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before the lanky Italian displaces Moses in the Chelsea side and that’s got to worry the former Wigan Athletic player.
The former Torino player is a more natural fit for the role, and there’s absolutely no shame in losing his place to someone with the skillset of the Italian. Yet, you’ve got to wonder how much of a hit it would have on the Nigeria International’s confidence after his impressive performances in the Blues’ title winning season.
The perennial loanee finally became a key player under Antonio Conte, and while it is too soon to call, could he be cast to the fringes yet again?
While that point may be debated, the fact that the Italian manager had chased more naturally-suited options – like Kyle Walker and Danilo – all summer showed he either wanted more competition for the Moses or indeed wanted to replace the dogged Moses altogether.
The failed pursuit of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool in the final days of the transfer window before the purchase of Zappacosta in the closing hours of the summer window proved how unrelenting the former Juventus manager was in getting a body in that role. Factor in the added fact that even though the Chelsea boss chased a body on the opposite flank to challenge Marcos Alonso, not so much effort was made after rejected bids for Juventus’ Alex Sandro.
That, in itself, is telling!
For Iwobi, though, the last year has seen the youngster somewhat fade into the shadows at the Emirates.
It seems a long time ago since the wonderkid was shortlisted for the 2016 European Golden Boy award (which he was eventually beaten to by Renato Sanches), but it shows how badly his game has regressed to think he won’t be anywhere near winning the award just a year on from his nomination.
Having forced his way into the Arsenal side toward the end of the 2015/2016 season, he’s failed to push on since then and has fallen down the pecking order in Arsene Wenger’s plans.
Perhaps, the inside forward was going to be one major beneficiary if Alexis Sanchez had his way this summer and successfully left the North London club. Nevertheless, the Chilean remains a Gunner for the time being, and Iwobi’s chances might remain at a premium.
Having played just 11 minutes in the league so far this season, the Europa League was supposed to see the promising forward play a major part in the group stages, at least in the hope of forcing his way back into Wenger’s plans.
Yet, on Thursday, the Frenchman bizarrely elected to deploy the youngster in central midfield with Sanchez filling the role best suited to Iwobi on the left, and Theo Walcott deployed on the right. It wasn't entirely a morale-boosting decision for the Nigeria international, and it surely won't help his development to be paid out of position when minutes do actually home his way.
Nevertheless, all hope isn’t lost.
With Arsenal behind at half-time against Cologne, Wenger’s decision to abandon the 3-4-2-1 and switch to a back four swung the tide in the North London club’s favour as they ran out 3-1 winners.
Iwobi hasn’t benefited from the switch to a back three as it saw an attacking slot lost to foster more defensive solidity, and he’ll hope the Frenchman sticks to the formation that served him well in their come-from-behind win against the Germans.
For Moses and Iwobi in the national team, it won’t bode well if two major key players in Gernot Rohr’s side become peripheral figures at club level, particularly following the promise of recent seasons.
If anything, Moses’ greater involvement and subsequent rise to prominence at Chelsea saw the Super Eagles greatly benefit as the wideman played with greater verve for Nigeria.
The German tactician has got to be worried, make no mistake, as the malaise of Iwobi and the threat of Zappacosta for Moses could seriously hamper the Nigeria side if they make it to Russia.