• Monday, Aug 20, 2018
  • Last Update : 10:18 am

World Cup kicks off in Russia

  • Published at 09:34 pm June 14th, 2018
  • Last updated at 09:36 pm June 14th, 2018
opening-world-cup.jpg
Performers during the Fifa World Cup 2018 opening ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday Reuters

The World Cup kicked off in Russia Thursday as the host nation took on Saudi Arabia in front of 80,000 people in Moscow after President Vladimir Putin officially declared the tournament open.

Russia is spending more than $13b (11b euros) on hosting football's showpiece, the most important event in the country since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.

Minutes before the game started in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Putin said: "I congratulate all of you at the start of the most important championship in the world."

The buildup has been dogged by controversy and diplomatic scandals and has shone a light on the challenges facing Putin's Russia.

On the day of the curtainraiser, Russia freed the main opposition figure to Putin, Alexei Navalny, from jail after he served a 30-day sentence for organising an illegal protest.

Excitement has been steadily building in Moscow, with thousands of Saudi fans in green and white arriving in the city for the match.

British pop star Robbie Williams performed at the opening ceremony at the Luzhniki, which will also host the final on July 15.

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.