Russian U17 women’s team play international in Bangladesh despite ban

Soccer Football - South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship - Bangladesh vs Russia- BSSS Mostafa Kamal Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 22, 2023. Russian Under-17 football team reacts to the fans after a victory against Bangladesh. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

DHAKA (Reuters) – Russia’s under-17 women’s team beat Bangladesh 3-0 in Dhaka on Wednesday despite an ongoing FIFA and UEFA ban aimed at isolating the country from international football because of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russians are a guest team at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) under-17 championship, an invitation that fuelled speculation that the Russian Football Union (RFU) might be looking to make a switch to the Asian Football Confederation.

Russian teams have been suspended from European and FIFA competitions since Moscow launched what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine last February.

A move to the AFC was touted by RFU chief Aleksander Dyukov last November as a possible option to allow the Russian national team and clubs to return to international competition.

On Wednesday, there was little out of the ordinary in the build-up to the match, with the Russian anthem being played out loud at the Kamalapur Stadium before the match kicked off in front of a sparse crowd.

The handful of Russian spectators in attendance held up Russian flags and chanted loudly, as Russia eased to victory with a dominant performance.

“We are very proud that our team has won, Bangladesh also fought very well. These footballers are not responsible for the war, they should not be banned from UEFA and FIFA,” Russian fan Olga said.

Russia’s women’s team are ranked 26th in the world, while Bangladesh are 140th, and the chasm in quality between the two under-17 sides was evident from the whistle as Elena Golik put Russia ahead with a side-footed finish in the fifth minute.

Golik scored a second on the cusp of halftime before a second-half strike from Anastasia Karataeva wrapped up the win for Russia. They will also play matches against Bhutan and Nepal before ending their campaign against India on March 28.

Another Russian side that could be involved in an international competition this year is the senior men’s team, who have been invited to compete in the Central Asian Football Association (CAFA) Championship in June, according to the Tajikistan Football Federation (TFF).

Regional competitions, such as the Copa America in South America, often invite guest countries from outside the federation to tournaments.

Both SAFF and CAFA are regional organisations under the umbrella of the AFC, which is one of the six continental confederations that make up FIFA.

RFU Deputy Secretary General Denis Rogachyov said on Tuesday that Russia wanted to remain in UEFA but that other options were being considered.

“The process of reinstating our rights to remain part of European football is a priority, but all scenarios are currently on the table,” he said in Moscow, according to a report by state-owned news agency TASS.

Russia is also looking to Asia to help its athletes to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics despite strong opposition from Ukraine and the governments of 35 countries, including the United States, Britain and France.

The International Olympic Committee said in January it was open to including Russians at the Games as neutral athletes and suggested Asia as a possible qualifying pathway to circumvent bans from European regional competitions.

The Olympic Council of Asia has offered to let athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus compete at the Asian Games in China later this year.

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