Dzyuba's transformation from lion cub to lion
Russia's squad is ageing and suffering from injuries
Towering Russian striker Artem Dzyuba is hoping to cut England down to size when the two countries start their European Championship finals campaign on Saturday.
Russia's squad is ageing and suffering from injuries, but the 1.96m (6ft 5in) Zenit St Petersburg forward dominates the field and his recent goalscoring for club and country underlines his status as Russia's primary threat.
"I think it's a good thing that we're playing against a strong side. From the first minutes, we will feel what it's like to play in the European Championship, and what's in front of us," Dzyuba said ahead of the Group B game in Marseille. Exiled for the best part of three years following his international debut in November 2011, Dzyuba missed out on Russia's failed campaigns at Euro 2012 and the World Cup in Brazil, which both ended after the group stage.
However, a move to Zenit last July - following a lengthy series of loan spells while at Spartak Moscow - thrust the 27-year-old back into the spotlight.
Dzyuba struck 27 times in 42 games for club and country last season, spearheading Zenit's run to the last 16 of the Champions League and firing Russia to a fourth straight appearance at the European Championship.
"Four years ago, before Euro 2012, which I eventually did not play in, I called myself a lion cub, but now I am a lion," said Dzyuba, who netted eight goals during qualifying. For me they were two massive blows, and of course it really hurt," he told Four Four Two magazine, admitting it was tough to watch as Russia struggled in Poland-Ukraine and at the 2014 World Cup.
"(But) maybe it was even a good thing in a funny sort of way, as it made me angry. It made me work on my game even more to show everyone, myself included, that I belong at this level." At 27, he is a late developer in a Russian side certainly not lacking experience - the squad's average age of 28.57 is the third oldest in the tournament along with Italy.
Dogged by suggestions of a difficult personality earlier in his career, Dzyuba has been branded the team's joker by midfielder Oleg Ivanov and said the atmosphere in the Russia camp was "great".
His strike rate of nine goals in 18 international appearances makes for impressive reading, and Dzyuba will have England goalkeeper Joe Hart in his crosshairs at the Stade Velodrome.
"I really like Joe Hart, who is probably my favourite goalkeeper at the moment.
"He comes across as being quite charismatic, as well as being a powerful presence on the pitch. It would be a great honour for me if I manage to score against him."
Captain Roman Shirokov spoke of a quarterfinal target for Russia in France, and a repeat of their last meeting with England - a 2-1 home victory in a Euro 2008 qualifier - would set the 2018 World Cup hosts up nicely for a run into the knockout stages with games against Slovakia and Wales to come.
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