- Artyom Dzyuba was included in Russia’s squad for the World Cup right at the last minute
- The towering striker had not played for the national team for nearly two years
- He has scored in both of the Sbornaya’s fixtures so far
By Igor Borunov with Russia
Everyone wanted to chat to Artem Dzyuba after the Egypt game. The Russian star duly obliged, patiently giving a flash interview and chatted with FIFA TV before spending more time in the mixed zone speaking to the media than any other player.
“I’m tired but it’s a nice fatigue,” he said smiling. No wonder. The Russian forward has already scored in both of the hosts' 2018 FIFA World Cup™ games so far, leading the line for 80 minutes against Egypt.
Dzyuba is already a hero in the national team: during qualification for UEFA EURO 2016 he scored eight goals, including a crucial strike against Sweden that booked his side's passage to France. At the time he was being hailed as the next Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but things soon changed.
Russia endured a disappointing tournament and over the next two years Dzyuba won just a solitary cap in a 4-3 friendly loss against Costa Rica, a game in which he scored twice. As for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, an injury decided he wouldn't be taking part.
Having butted heads with Zenit Saint Petersburg head coach Roberto Mancini last seaon, who almost never played him, and with the World Cup was approaching fast, Artem needed to do something.
So it was that the powerful centre-forward made the bold decision to accept a loan move to mid-table Arsenal Tula. It proved to be a masterstroke. Dzyuba made ten appearances for the Russian Gunners, scoring six times and drawing praise from the Sbornaya head coach Stanislav Cherchesov, who was facing an injury crisis as one player after another dropped out of his squad.
With eventual Russian Premier League top scorer Alexander Kokorin also among those injured, Dzyuba was called up just prior to Russia 2018 as back-up for Fyodor Smolov, the hosts' only striker fully fit and scoring regularly.
The sharp-tongued Dzyuba got a swift rebuke from Stanislav Cherchesov after telling the media that he was a bench-warmer but still happy to be part of the squad. Cherchesov reminded him that it is up to him who to play and not to play - and he was right. Dzyuba started the tournament on the bench but came on as substitute in the second half of the Opening Match against Saudi Arabia and made an immediate impact, scoring after just two minutes.
“I’m over the moon,” Dzyuba said after his first goal at the World Cup. “It was a challenging road. I’d like to say it all probably happened for a reason. I had to overcome a lot of obstacles.”
Indeed, it has been uphill battle ever since his return to the side. Dzyuba was a stomping presence against Egypt and had a hand in all three goals, contributing himself with a beautifully taken finish that sent the fervent crowd into a frenzy.
Finding the net in Saint Petersburg is a familiar feeling for Dzyuba, but this time he is wearing the shirt of Russia in the biggest tournament of his life. He is once again a hero, living out a football fairy-tale that he does not want to end.
“We’ve achieved the minimum requirement,” a delighted Dzyuba concluded, “but the World Cup is far from over. It might be a bit cheeky on our part, but now we want to compete for first place in the group. We were lucky, but we earned it through our effort and attitude. We were fighting for each other; the whole country was behind us.
"We deserved this win because we refused to give away an inch to the Egyptians. Let’s cross the next bridge when we get to it. I am so happy just to be here, to play and to score – it was my childhood dream.”