Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko believes that FIFA Presidential candidates Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Gianni Infantino could join forces ahead of the election on February 26.

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman received the backing of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) last week, to receive a major boost in his campaign.

News of African support did not come not entirely out of the blue. Last month, the CAF reached an agreement with the AFC over a four-year ‘memorandum of understanding’ between the two federations, which many took as a tacit sign that Africa would back Sheikh Salman.

Although receiving the support of the African federation will help Sheikh Salman’s electoral prospects, it does not guarantee him all 54 of the African Associations votes.  In the wake of the CAF announcement, Gianni Infantino and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein received the public backing of South Sudan and Liberia respectively.

Infantino, who has received backing from Europe, South America and the Caribbean, is widely seen as the biggest rival to Shaikh Salman.

Mutko, who heads the Russian Football Union and is a member of FIFA’s ruling Executive Committee, believes the two candidates could yet form an electoral pact with one candidate becoming president while the other being appointed secretary-general. Neither man has spoken of such an arrangement.

Gianni Infantino

Uefa-backed Gianni Infantino is running neck and neck with Sheikh salman.

“It was their mutual message initially, but at the moment each of them thinks that he is the front-runner,” Mutko told the Russian news agency TASS.

“However, one must not love football only within himself, but must love football on the whole.

“When there is a formal support from Asia and Africa, then you are certainly the front-runner.

“Russia’s stance is very simple as we want them to come to terms eventually and lay out all their trump cards on the table.”

Mutko, who is currently overseeing Russia’s preparations for the 2018 World Cup, announced the RFU would back Infantino’s campaign earlier this month.

The winner of the election at FIFA’s Extraordinary Congress in Zurich will replace the outgoing Sepp Blatter, who has been banned for eight years for involvement in a disloyal payment scandal involving UEFA head and former presidential hopeful Michel Platini.