Had the snow not intervened in March then there is little doubt who would have led Russia's attack in Northern Ireland, but in the intervening five months a pretender has emerged to Aleksandr Kerzhakov's throne: Artem Dzyuba.
The Russian Premier League's six-goal top scorer this season, Dzyuba's rise has coincided nicely with a relative dip in form for FC Zenit St Petersburg's Kerzhakov. It all means that after a couple of friendly appearances and frustrating evenings on the bench, the 24-year-old could make his competitive international bow on Wednesday.
"I really hope to play in Belfast," said the striker. "I've played just two friendly matches and was an unused substitute in the qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Portugal, so now I have my best chance. Psychologically I am ready to play from the beginning but also to come off the bench. I really want to help the team."
Fabio Capello's side have not needed much assistance thus far, taking a firm grip on FIFA World Cup Group F with four wins from five matches. Defeat in Portugal last time out leaves them two points adrift of the table-topping Portuguese, albeit Russia have two games in hand, starting at Windsor Park. "Northern Irish players are real fighters, strong characters," warned Dzyuba. "They are not so good technically but they compensate with an uncompromising attitude."
Dzyuba is known for his all-or-nothing approach too, regarded as a player that wears his heart on his sleeve and triumphs through adversity. Having developed in the FC Spartak Moskva academy, he had a two-season apprenticeship on loan at FC Tom Tomsk before returning to Spartak for 2011/12 – only to be told this summer he was not in coach Valeri Karpin's immediate plans.
FC Rostov pounced, bringing him in on loan, and have been rewarded to the tune of six goals and an assist in just four fixtures. "This is best start to a season of my career," Dzyuba told UEFA.com. "I hope to keep scoring and will do my best to help the team." Rostov, almost relegated last term, are joint leaders of the Premier League with Spartak.
Russia aim to benefit from that form in Belfast, where Dzyuba may feel he has another point to prove after failing to make the final cut for UEFA EURO 2012. He is certainly making a habit of proving people wrong.
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