Slutsky warns England over Super Dzyuba


Marseille (AFP) – Russia coach Leonid Slutsky has underlined the threat of towering striker Artem Dzyuba as they prepare to upset England’s lofty plans of trying to win their first major tournament in 50 years.

A spate of injuries to key players means Russia head into Saturday’s clash at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome as clear underdogs against the 1966 World Cup winners.

Indeed England captain Wayne Rooney suggested the Three Lions could go all the way.

“My ambition is to do as well as we can, and try and win it,” said Rooney.

“We believe we’ve got the quality to do very well in this tournament.”

Russia, who like England exited the 2014 World Cup at the first hurdle, are without injured midfielders Alan Dzagoev and the influential Igor Denisov.

Russia’s squad is also ageing, but 1.96m (6ft 5in) Zenit St Petersburg forward Dzyuba has given Slutsky more than one reason to believe they could cause an upset.

He scored 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.

“Last season he scored 27 goals in all competitions and he was one of the top scorers in the Champions League,” Slutsky told media at the Stade Velodrome on Friday. 

“But outwith the fact he is strong and powerful, he has other attributes as well.”

Often likened, in physical terms, to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dzyuba is not as skilful as the giant Swede.

But that won’t hinder his hopes of throwing a spanner into England’s plans of reaching the latter stages of a major competition for the first time since their semi-finals appearance at Euro 96.

“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 told Four Four Two magazine ahead of the Group B game in Marseille.

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has singled out Dzyuba as Russia’s biggest threat, but he is relishing the chance to limit his opportunities.

“Our two central defenders will have to be very physical and aggressive against him,” said Smalling.

“As defenders in the Premier League we are used to big guys and those challenges, and it’s something we enjoy as centre-backs.”

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