Russia: Key Players

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Artem Dzyuba

Artem Dzyuba was born August 22, 1988 in Moscow, Russia. He joined Spartak’s youth academy when he was 8. He has played there for 19 years until 2015, when after multiple conflicts with Spartak’s head coaches and failure to extend a contract, Dzyuba left to Zenit on a free transfer. We now see that it was a right decision as he helped Zenit make it to the play-offs of the Champions League. Surprisingly enough, being one of the most talented Russian strikers, Dzyuba has only made his debut in the UCL this season. Despite that fact, his goal + pass statistics is astonishing: 6 goals and 2 assists in 8 games of the hardest football tournament.

Even though Artem is an example of a typical poacher (a striker who nets teammates’ crosses and passes from the penalty box), he became a more diverse player at Zenit. Unlike in Rostov and Spartak, where he was the main star and everyone supplied him with unlimited passes, Dzyuba has to provide his teammates with more passes and opportunities, as Hulk, Danny and Shatov have an amazing shot. Also, he has to play with his back towards the goal more often, because each of the three aforementioned players has an outstanding acceleration and supplying them with through balls always leads to potential threats to the opposition (Vorob’ev, 1). Thus, in the following table, we can see that in his previous teams he could dribble and wait for the ball in the final third, and in Zenit, he has to participate in the creation of attacks (and of course, finish them).

  Per Game Statistics
  Passes Passes for Shots** Dribbles
Rostov (2013/14) 24,2 1,2 1,1
Spartak (2014/15) 17,8 1,8 0,4
Rostov (2014/15) 10,7 0,5 0,3
Zenit (2015/16) 21,9 1,5 0,2

*source: statistics from

**passes for shots means passes after which his teammates would shoot the ball

Dzyuba is a star of the national team, but with great speedsters, like Shatov, Kokorin, Smolov and Bystrov, Slutsky can alternate between Dzyuba’s roles: as a pure poacher or a creating one.

Sergei Ignashevich

Sergei Ignashevich was born on July 14, 1979 in Moscow, Russia. Ignashevich has played in three of the “Big Four” teams throughout his career: Spartak, Lokomotiv and CSKA. He grew up in Spartak, first shined in Lokomotiv, and became a top-class defender in CSKA.

“The Wall” made his debut for Russia in 2002. He started his international career playing with Viktor Onopko, one of the best players in the Russian football history. It is interesting that Ignashevich broke Onopko’s record for the most caps (115). Unfortunately, Euro2016 will most likely be the last Euro for Ignashevich.

Per Game Statistics
Passes Pass Accuracy Long Balls
60.4 82.3% 9.3

*source: statistics from

One of his greatest strengths is passing. For a defender with an average of 60.4 passes per game, out of which almost 10 are long balls, his accuracy is very high (82.3%). Russians will need his ability of first pass to quickly counter-attack the opponents.

Igor Akinfeev

Igor Akinfeev is a 30-year-old goalkeeper for CSKA and Russia. Being relatively young for a goalkeeper, he is one of the most experienced players of Russia (86 caps). Igor is a part of a very respected and honored One-Club list, having spent his whole career at CSKA. Also, he broke a very impressive record last year: he has the most clean sheets (230 as of October 12, 2015) for a Russian goalkeeper (Yokhin, 1), beating Rinat Dasaev (one of the best goalies in the history of football).

Akinfeev made his professional debut for CSKA at the age of 16. He made his international debut in a match against Norway (2:3) in 2004 when he was only 18 years old. He has been protecting CSKA and Russian goals ever since.



There was a dark moment in the Russian football history and Akinfeev’s career: his horrible mistake in a World Cup game against South Korea cost Russia 2 points. Russians blamed Akinfeev for team’s failure to qualify to the play-offs (although they wouldn’t have qualified regardless of his mistake, because Algeria, which had a 2-point advantage over Russia, also had a better goal difference). Nevertheless, if Igor does not make silly mistakes and plays his regular games, Russian goals will be well protected by one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

How to cite this page: “Russia: Key Players”, Written by Alikhan Mukhamedi(2016). European Cup 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)). 

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