One month to the day after obtaining its qualification for the next African Cup of Nations (organized from January 13 to February 11, 2024 in Ivory Coast), Cameroon will play a friendly match which will not go unnoticed: on October 12, the Indomitable Lions will face Russia at the VTB Arena in Moscow. The opportunity for the Moscow public to see their selection evolve for the first time since September 7, 2021 and the duel against Malta, at the Spartak Stadium, as part of the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.
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Because, in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, at the end of February 2022, the country’s national team and clubs were banned from world football: the International Federation (FIFA) and its European counterpart, UEFA , having excluded them from all their competitions. The fact remains that Russia was able to play friendly matches in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and even in Iran and Qatar. But also on its soil, as was the case against Iraq, in Saint Petersburg, on March 26.
The arrival of the Indomitable Lions in Moscow “was desired for several months by the Russians”explains a source close to the Cameroonian Federation (Fecafoot), wishing to remain anonymous. “The discussions primarily concerned the ministries of foreign affairs, such a match cannot be the result of an agreement between federations”she continues.
According to a FIFA match organizer, the first contacts date back to the beginning of 2023, when Russia was looking for opponents to play friendly matches. However, he recalls, “no European selection wants to take the risk of facing them, because that would have consequences on public opinion. African federations also refused”. Paul Biya, the Cameroonian head of state, quickly showed himself favorable to this perspective. The match should initially have been played in June, but Samuel Eto’o, the president of Fecafoot, had already committed to a match on June 10, against Mexico, in San Diego (California).
“This match is a strong political signal”
Cameroon will be the first A team, other than Asian, to face Sbornaya since the start of the war. In September, a Russian selection went to Egypt for two matches, but it was against the local Olympic team, the under-23s. “Russia wants to show that despite the various sanctions, it can exist in particular through sport, and this match against Cameroon in Moscow is a strong signal politically, insists Lukas Aubin, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations. The regime has its allies, and we know that it has a certain number of them in Africa, a continent where its influence has been strengthened since 2019. Cameroon, even if it wants the conflict in Ukraine to be resolved, is for example favorable to the presence of Russian athletes at the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.”
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According to information from World AfricaRussia will cover the travel and accommodation of the Indomitable Lions in the capital. The reception given to Samuel Eto’o will also be closely scrutinized. The president of the federation took part, at the beginning of August, in London, in a charity match organized by the former glory of the Ukrainian selection, Andreï Shevchenko, to finance the reconstruction of a school destroyed by the Russian army. The presence of the ex-striker at this event was little appreciated both by Vladimir Putin – whom the player had met in Moscow on the sidelines of the draw for the 2018 World Cup – and by the Cameroonian head of state Paul Biya.
For Lukas Aubin, we should expect other matches between Russia and African teams to take place in the medium term. In fact, after the Indomitable Lions, the Kenyan Harambee Stars should in turn challenge the Sbornaya on October 16 in Antalya, Turkey.