How Russia World Cup star Denis Cheryshev sparked Real Madrid's historic Champions League success

Dan Kilpatrick
Evening Standard
In the goals: Denis Cheryshev: REUTERS
In the goals: Denis Cheryshev: REUTERS

Russia winger Denis Cheryshev is best known in Spain for setting in motion the bizarre chain of events leading to Real Madrid’s unprecedented three consecutive European Cups, but he has the chance to change that in Sunday’s last-16 clash here.

In December 2015, Cheryshev played and scored for Real in a 3-1 win in the Copa del Rey, without the club realising he was suspended. Real were expelled from the Copa and, in the resulting fuss, Rafa Benitez was sacked and replaced by Zinedine Zidane. The rest is history.

The 27-year-old was born in host city Nizhny Novgorod but has lived in Spain since he was six after his father, Dmitri, was signed by Sporting Gijon.

Cheryshev speaks Russian with a distinct Spanish accent and, had he been more fortunate with injuries during his career, might have been representing La Rojo rather than Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.

“I am more Spanish than Russian because I spent all of my life there,” Cheryshev said after earning his first call-up to the Russia Under-21 squad.

If Cheryshev can continue his fine form against his adopted country, it will provide another chapter to a remarkable story.

He was a surprise inclusion in Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad anyway and a surprise call from the bench when Alan Dzagoev was injured in the opening game against Saudi Arabia.

He scored twice in that opening 5-0 win and added another in the 3-1 victory over Egypt to leave him in contention for the Golden Boot. Compare that to his record in La Liga last season, where he scored just twice for Villarreal.

In one respect, Cheryshev’s form should not come as a surprise as he is more at home with top-level football than anyone in Russia’s squad.

Former Russia coach Fabio Capello recognised his potential and took him to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to gain tournament experience, even though he was injured. That decision is now paying off.

Spain coach Fernando Hierro, meanwhile, is considering dropping Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea for the match after a series of unconvincing performances.

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