Euro 2016 Team Guide: Russia ready to step into the spotlight

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As World Cup hosts in 2018, much will be expected of Leonid Slutsky's men as they look to make a major impact in France this summer

Coach: Leonid Slutsky

Key player: Artem Dzyuba

Qualifying form: W6, L2, D2

Top scorers in qualifying: Artem Dzyuba (8), Aleksandr Kokorin (3)

Playing competitive football for the final time before a year’s hiatus may well give Russia the incentive they need to make an impact at Euro 2016, as the next World Cup hosts look to turn around a sub-standard recent record at major tournaments.

Their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 remains the only time that a post-Soviet Russia side has emerged from the group stage of a tournament, although the current team appears to be on an upward curve after coming through a tumultuous qualification campaign by securing second place in Group G.

Six games into their campaign, with just two wins, the Russian Football Union (RFS) parted company with Fabio Capello and drafted in CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky as a temporary replacement.

The move proved inspired, as Slutsky guided Russia to victory in each of their remaining games, including a crucial 1-0 win over Sweden in Moscow, secured by top scorer Artem Dzyuba.

Former goalkeeper Slutsky’s playing career may have been unfortunately halted at 19 due to a knee injury sustained after falling out of a tree while looking for a neighbour's cat, but his luck has changed since taking to the dugout.

A handful of Russian Premier League, Russian Cup and Russian Super Cup titles have followed since he was appointed as Juande Ramos’ successor at CSKA in 2009 - as well as considerable progress in Europe. 

Another league crown followed this season. Alan Dzagoev scored CSKA's title-winning goal in May, but a hamstring injury sustained in that win over Rubin Kazan has ruled the Euro 2012 joint top scorer out of the tournament.

But Slutsky has strong credentials in continental competition, having led CSKA to their first Champions League quarter-final in 2009-10, where they fell to the eventual champions, Jose Mourinho's Inter.

If Slutsky is to make an impact at Euro 2016 he will likely look for inspiration from a player he will be used to quelling on the domestic front, Zenit striker Dzyuba.

Physically imposing thanks to a near two-metre frame, Dzyuba is as skilful as he is powerful and displayed his poaching instincts to net eight goals in qualifying - a tally bettered in regular qualifying (excluding the play-offs) only by Thomas Muller (9) and Robert Lewandowski (13).

Also with an assist to his name, Dzyuba had a hand in 50 per cent of Russia’s 18 goals in qualifying. In that regard, among teams who made it to the finals, the Zenit man was beaten only by Gareth Bale (82 per cent) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (58 per cent).

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Having scored just twice in his first 10 caps, Dzyuba then netted six times in his next three games, suggesting he may be peaking at just the right time as Russia look to escape a group containing England, Bale's Wales and Slovakia.

Dzyuba also holds form in Europe this term, having scored six goals in as many Champions League group games as Zenit topped their pool.

With a team and leading man building in confidence before the stern test of managing expectations when they host the World Cup in two years' time, Russia will be ones to watch.

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