Published: 2022-11-28 12:03
Last Updated: 2023-03-28 17:20
At a bustling Moscow bar, football fans wearing red, white and blue are glued to the TV screens as teams line up for the national anthems ahead of a World Cup match, AFP reported.
But this time the colors are not to represent the Russian flag.
The country that in 2018 hosted the World Cup has this year been barred by FIFA from international football competitions in response to Moscow’s military operation ibn Ukraine.
And with the Russian team absent from the championship hosted by Qatar, its fans have instead come to support Moscow's ally Serbia.
"We have always supported them and we will continue to support them: I think that the Serbs are a brother people," Kirill Gnevuchev, a manager for a refrigeration equipment company, told AFP at a bar in central Moscow.
Gnevuchev had come with his friends on Thursday to cheer on Serbia's team -- nicknamed the "Orlovi" (the Eagles) -- in their opening group stage match against Brazil, which Serbia lost 2-0.
Their next match will be against Cameroon on Monday.
While Serbia's European neighbors have pummelled Russia with sanctions over the Ukraine military operation, Belgrade's historically close ties with Moscow have remained largely unscathed.
And in this Moscow bar, unusually busy on a weekday, the conflict in Ukraine seems far away.
Young women cheer with a Serbian flag painted on their cheek, other fans discuss the match sipping on a cold pint while two bookmakers pass through the tables collecting bets.
"I bet on Brazil but I support Serbia," Roman Marshak, a 34-year-old professional poker player, told AFP with a smile.
"If Brazil wins, I win money. If Serbia wins, I'll just be happy!"
Meanwhile, bartender Roman Yanchinsky is glad to have such a crowd on a Thursday.
"It's thanks to Serbia that we have a full house today," the 41-year-old said.