Russia still gripped by Dzyuba-mania

  • Russia jumped 21 positions in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

  • One of the main reasons behind their World Cup success was Artem Dzyuba

  • The imposing striker is now a fan idol in Russia

Extra time in one of the most enthralling encounters of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ had drawn to a close with the score at 2-2. Penalties were needed to decide the victor between Russia and Croatia. The Sbornaya players gathered into a huddle around one man, who was seen vigorously rousing his team-mates for the final push to determine which team would advance into the last four.

Despite the deafening din at the Fisht Stadium, television cameras caught every word of Artem Dzyuba’s speech. The towering striker had already been substituted and thus was unable to volunteer himself for the penalty shootout. But it nevertheless fell to him to provide the motivation. “Lads, I’m proud of you! I love you! " he said. "Just enjoy the moment right now. He [Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic] moves early, don’t rush it! If you don’t feel confident, strike down the centre! Let’s go!”

Dzyuba’s passionate words ultimately did not bring victory for Russia, of course, as Croatia took the last spot in the semi-final. But after the game, Artem endeared himself to the nation again as he broke down in tears live on television. “I’m proud of my team-mates and I love them like family," he said. "We’ve become one big family. We wanted to prove to the entire country that football here is alive, so people would be proud of us. Thanks to everyone. We’re heartbroken.”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Russia players and staff form a huddle before extra time during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Russia and Croatia at Fisht Stadium on July 7, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Artem Dzyuba giving a motivational speech before the penalty shootout in Russia-Croatia

Artem Dzyuba Factfile

  • ​Born on 22 August 1988 in Moscow

  • ​Goals at 2018 World Cup: 3

  • ​Assists at 2018 World Cup: 2

  • ​Minutes played at 2018 World Cup: 333

  • ​Club: Zenit Saint Petersburg

  • ​His goal against Egypt was included on the shortlist for the Hyundai Goal of the Tournament

After their historic performance on home soil, the Russian national team made their biggest-ever leap on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, climbing 21 positions to 49th place. The Sbornaya have won the hearts of an entire nation, but it is Dzyuba whom the people adore the most.

The striker may have scored fewer goals than Denis Cheryshev (4), he may not have saved the team like Igor Akinfeev did. But in the post-World Cup landscape he has been the main focus of all the country’s affection, in a way that probably no Russian footballer has experienced before.

In fact, the quarter-final against Croatia was not the only time when it fell to Artem to give a motivational speech. Even before the Opening Match of the 2018 World Cup, Dzyuba gave an address to those fans who doubted the team’s chances of success, imploring them to get behind the side. He also inspired his team-mates in the changing room before kick-off against Saudi Arabia, even though he was not in the starting line-up. His words had such an effect that he was thereafter chosen to speak before every game at the tournament.

Artem managed to touch not only players but supporters too: before the World Cup he had 170,000 followers on Instagram, whereas that figure now exceeds 1.2 million. Following the defeat to Croatia, he uploaded 22 selfies with all of his team-mates in the Russia squad on the platform, each one with the inscription: “My warriors! My pride!”

Wherever Dzyuba now plays for his club side Zenit Saint Petersburg, he is greeted like a conquering hero: entire stadiums chant his name, banners are raised in his honour and off-the-cuff autograph sessions have become a prerequisite of the post-match programme of events. You can even choose to be guided through the streets by his voice on a popular GPS app in Russia.

Dzyuba on his popularity post-Russia 2018

  • “It’s like I’m flying when the entire stadium sings my name – it’s an indescribable emotion.”

  • “We should keep this fire in our heart and soul. We will continue to fight with this driving us forward because these feelings are just unbelievable.”

  • “We’re united for the first time in years: the country and the team, we are now as one.”

  • “Finally we’ve managed to get the country back on our side. We don’t want to lose this magical atmosphere.”

Dzyuba celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday, but he seems much younger. His spontaneity and the way he wears his heart on his sleeve have infected the country. On the football pitch, he continues to delight the fans, scoring five goals in as many matches since the World Cup and winning every one of them.

His Zenit side also pulled off a minor miracle in qualifying for the UEFA Europa League, overturning a 4-0 deficit from the first leg against Dinamo Minsk to win 8-1 in the second with a stunning performance. Artem chipped in with three of them – leaving no one in any doubt as to who inspired the team.

The Dzyuba fairy tale continues and his name has gone down in the history books of Russian football.

Leading USSR/Russia goalscorers at the FIFA World Cup

6 – Oleg Salenko (1994) 5 – Valentin Ivanov (1958, 1962) 4 – Igor Belanov (1986), Anatoly Byshovets (1970), Denis Cheryshev (2018), Igor Chislenko (1962, 1966), Valery Porkuyan (1966) 3 – Artem Dzyuba (2018)

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 19:  Artem Dzyuba of Russia celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group A match between Russia and Egypt at Saint Petersburg Stadium on June 19, 2018 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)