Putin officially opens World Cup in Russia
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin officially opened the World Cup yesterday at a ceremony in Moscow’s 80,000-seat Luzhniki Stadium.
Minutes before Saudi Arabia kicked off the tournament against host nation Russia, Putin said: “I congratulate all of you at the start of the most important championship in the world.
“Love for football unites the entire world in one team, regardless of people’s language or ideology,” Putin said to thunderous cheers from the capacity crowd.
He said Russia had approached preparations for the most-watched event in the world “responsibly, doing everything to make sure fans can enjoy this celebration.”
“This grand sporting event is taking place in Russia for the first time, and we are truly happy,” he said.
“In our country, football is not just a popular sport, not just the most beautiful sport — people here truly love it,” the Russian leader said.
The opening ceremony included a miniconcert by British pop star Robbie Williams, who performed “Let Me Entertain You.”
Russia has left no stone unturned preparing for its most important event since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, spending more than US$13 billion (RM51.7 billion) on infrastructure in the 11 host cities.
The World Cup favourites enter the fray this weekend.
Brazil and their superstar Neymar are seeking a sixth global crown while Germany, who won their fourth World Cup in Brazil four years ago, will be determined to draw level with the Brazilians.
France boast possibly the most talented squad while Lionel Messi is desperate to make amends for Argentina's defeat in the 2014 final.
Neymar, the world's most expensive player, has recovered from a broken bone in his foot in time.
Egypt's coach said prolific striker Mohamed Salah is "almost 100 per cent" to play in their opening match against Uruguay today after having intensive treatment on the shoulder injury he suffered playing for Liverpool against Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Page 1 caption: (From left) Singers Robbie Williams and Aida Garifullina, the World Cup mascot Zabivaka and Brazilian football legend Ronaldo at the opening ceremony of the World Cup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow yesterday.