Soccer-Russia bank on boost from exuberant striker Dzyuba

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FILE PHOTO: Russia Training
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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will need their leading striker Artyom Dzyuba at his best to get out of the group stage at the European Championship for the first time in more than a decade.

The towering 32-year-old captain starts Euro 2020 after scoring twice to secure Zenit St Petersburg's third straight Russian Premier League title this month, having shown his prowess in the qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

The exuberant Dzyuba wore a "Deadpool" costume as he carried his young son to the podium to receive his championship medal in homage to the superhero from Marvel Comics.

"This is Deadpool. He can do everything, and what he is best at is regeneration. This is me," Dzyuba said.

The leitmotiv of Dzyuba's career has been perpetual regeneration.

Standing 1.96 metres, Dzyuba wins key aerial battles in the box, often ungracefully. He compensates for his awkwardness with accurate passing and a dominant physical presence.

Over the years Dzyuba has quarrelled with coaches, been sent out on loan, left off the national squad and demoted to Zenit's reserve team after scoring droughts and off-pitch antics.

Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov left him out of the squad for three matches last year to shield him from negative publicity after the leak of a private video online.

But Dzyuba has always re-emerged and returned to his managers' good books by scoring scrappy goals and destabilising opponents' defences. This month he became the Russian Premier League all-time top scorer with 137 goals in 363 matches.

Dzyuba's goals were crucial in sending Russia to the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time in their history in 2018, as well as qualifying for Euro 2020 after a disappointing tournament in 2016.

"Every team depends on its leader," Cherchesov told the Championat.com website. "Team Russia has 'Dzyuba-dependence'. Barcelona has 'Messi-dependence.'"

Dzyuba is on pace to become Russia's all-time top scorer.

He is one goal away from Alexander Kerzhakov's 30-goal record, with two international friendlies before Russia face Belgium in their opener in St Petersburg on June 12 followed by Finland four days later and Denmark on June 21.

"One goal left to tie (Kerzhakov), and two to make history," Dzyuba said in March. "When I scored my first (Russia) goal, I threatened to beat (Kerzhakov's record). Everybody laughed."

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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