Putin of­fi­cially opens World Cup in Rus­sia

New Straits Times - - SPORT -

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.

AFP PIC

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.

Vladimir Putin

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