While Russian fans have been waiting 12 years to see their team return to a FIFA World Cup™, Victor Fayzulin has had to bide his time too, having finally found his way into the heart of his country's midfield in time to help them reach Brazil 2014.
Having been completely overlooked by Guss Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, coach Fabio Capello saw fit to introduce the Zenit player into his first friendly in charge in July 2012 and the 28-year-old, from the very east of the country, has been there ever since. Talking to FIFA, Fayzulin argued that his versatility – which as a result saw him deployed away from his preferred central position – had detrimentally hit his selection chances.
“I used to play on the right, on the left, as an attacker, but was never put in a central midfield position,” the man from the coastal city of Nakhodka – situated 130 miles east of the Korea DPR border – explained. “Only in the last two years have I started to play in this position permanently, so that is why I guess they called me up to the national team.”
And what an impact that has made. Since his international debut he has only missed one of the 20 fixtures leading up to the World Cup, featuring in all ten of the qualifiers and starting nine of them. He even got on the score-sheet three times with a central trio as the Sbornaya (The National Team) topped Group F in qualifying.
They are disciplined. As a footballer, I find it hard to play against them. They are quick, small and sharp players.
Fayzulin has not had it all easy in his career as a whole, having worked his way up from the Russian first division, where he played for three years with SKA Energie, before a season with Spartak Nalchik in the top flight persuaded Zenit to acquire his services. This steady progression means his expectations of where he could get to were always tempered until, slowly but surely, a trip to the top stage in international football became a tangible accomplishment in his mind.
“[Appearing at a World Cup] was a lofty dream that seemed impossible to achieve,” he admitted. “But step by step I set that goal for myself: first I got into the First Division, and then the Premier League. Then I realised I could play in the Premier League, and then I started thinking about the national team. So it all happened gradually.”
Now he sits on the eve of that dream being fully realised, with Russia set to open their Group H campaign against Korea Republic. Though Fayzulin confesses that to him it “doesn't even feel like the World Cup yet”, it is surely a fact that will change for him when he hears the Russian national anthem ring out around the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.
Relative neighbours to his port-driven home city – with Seoul clocking in at 3,500 miles closer than Moscow – Fayzulin admits to having a soft spot for the Taeguk Warriors, having faced them in a friendly back in November. “I remember that I liked Korea's national team,” he said, recalling last year's 2-1 win. “I liked the way they moved, I liked how sharp they were. They are disciplined. As a footballer, I find it hard to play against them. They are quick, small and sharp players.”
While the streets of Nakhodka may be packed with Korean cars, and many a resident has stories of migrating to see their nation compete at Korea/Japan 2002, split loyalties will be hard to find as they watch their man proudly sing Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii. After all, they've all had to wait.