Earlier this week, Emirates 427 ran a story on Russia's Dynamo Moscow striker Aleksandr Kokorin, detailing his ascent through ranks of the national team and the prospects for the forward becoming a superstar in Brazil next month. But while Kokorin certainly is a top-class player, to focus on him is to neglect a man with just as much of a chance for a breakout tournament.
Artyom Dzyuba is largely unknown outside Russia, which is what happens when you play for FC Rostov. Consistently mid-table and situated in a coastal city on the mouth of the Don River near the Black Sea, Rostov are far removed from the traditional centres of power in the Russian Premier League.
But despite featuring in a relative backwater, the Spartak Moscow loanee has emerged as this season's joint highest goal scorer and the highest scoring Russian player in the Russian Premier League. This current status isn't much of a surprise; the 25-year-old's talents have been obvious since he made his debut in 2006. But at Spartak, first team opportunities were hard to come by, until a loan move to Tom Tomsk in 2010 allowed him to became the fourth highest goalscorer in the league with 10 goals.
Despite his talents, size — he stands at 6'5" — and goal output, senior national team opportunities were few even with Guus Hiddink making way for Dick Advocaat. It was not until after Russia secured qualification for Euro 2012 that Dzyuba earned his first cap in a friendly against Greece. He did not manage to score, but in a friendly exactly one year later against the United States, Dzyuba's frontline presence was enough to earn Russia a penalty.
The striker was not selected for the final Euro 2012 squad but as Russia came home early, major reassessments and personnel changes took place giving Dzyuba hope of a regular spot. With a change in regime under former England manager Fabio Capello, Dzyuba found himself continuously on the bench with a sole appearance coming in a defeat to Northern Ireland in Belfast last August.
But with Aleksandr Kerzhakov's spot rightfully in question, it's difficult to see what more Dzyuba needs to do to feature in Brazil. Since the official retirement of Roman Pavlyuchenko along with the omissions of Andrei Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak, room has opened up for Capello to choose another striker and Dzyuba has made a compelling case for his candidacy. His 18 goals so far may not sound like much to English Premier League, La Liga, or Serie A fans, but given that the Russian Premier League consists of only 16 teams with each team playing 30 matches, it's a very high goal per match ratio.
Dzyuba plays as a classic No. 9 striker often times being the furthest player forward and in the center of the penalty area to receive crosses or corners. Given Kokorin's abilities as a second striker, combining his talents and Dzyuba's finishing prowess, would provide Russia with an attacking partnership similar to that of Andrei Arshavin and Kerzhakov in their glory days.
Take, for example, his recent goal in Rostov's loss to Volga. Dzybua moved through the opponents defense and was perfectly positioned in the center of the box to volley in a goal with just one touch (1:30 into the video):
His tall frame allows him to be an aerial menace; something Russia has lacked even with the inclusion of tall strikers like Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak. His most recent goal, against Dynamo Moscow, was a typical header for a striker of his height (minute 2:30):
Fabio Capello recently stated in an interview with R-Sport he will decide on Dzyuba's inclusion after the Russian Premier League season comes to a close. If the coach selects the big striker — and he should — Dzyuba's presence in front of goal could put him on the international radar for good.