FIFA World Cup starts with colourful ceremony, Russia romp in opener
MOSCOW, 14th June: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the FIFA World Cup open after a colourful opening ceremony at the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium here on Thursday.
"The love of football unites the world in one team, independent of language or ideology," the Russian president stated during his speech, as reported by Sputnik news agency.
Putin said he hoped fans, players and officials enjoy their stay in Russia during the World Cup, reports Xinhua news agency.
"Football is truly loved here and it is called love at first sight, since our first official match here in 1897," Putin said.
"I hope fans and teams enjoy their stay in Russia, an open, hospitable and friendly country with people who have the shared values. Football brings us altogether in one team, we are united by this spectacular game," he added.
FIFA chief Gianni Infantino also addressed the gathering.
Artistic performances from UK singer Robbie Williams and Russian operatic soprano Aida Garifullina were the highlights of the opening ceremony.
Two-time FIFA World Cup champion Ronaldo of Brazil and Sweden legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic also attended.
Former Spain captain Iker Casillas brought the trophy inside the ground.
Casillas, who helped Spain to win the 2010 edition of the World Cup, was accompanied by Russian model Natalia Vodionova and presented the trophy that the winning team will be awarded after the July 15 final, reports Efe news agency. The trophy is made of more than six kilograms (13.2 pounds) of gold.
Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov were some of the political heavyweights at the event.
Russia overwhelm Saudis
Hosts Russia began their FIFA World Cup campaign in emphatic fashion, registering an easy 5-0 victory over minnows Saudi Arabia in a Group A game at the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium here on Thursday.
Yuri Gazinskiy (12th minute), Denis Cheryshev (43rd, 90+1), Artem Dzyuba (71st) and Aleksandr Golovin (90+4) scored for the hosts, who enjoyed a near-perfect first day.
They overcame the injury suffered by forward Alan Dzagoev in the middle of the first half. But his substitute Cheryshev scored a brace and young Golovin made two assists and a goal to more than make up for Dzagoev's absence.