Highlights of Russia 2018 exciting start

It appears that Russia has left no stones unturned to make the grand worldwide tournament a huge success (this World Cup is its most important event since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics), spending more than $13 billion (11 billion euros) on infrastructure in the 11 host cities.

Before the opening ceremony started proper, former Spain keeper Iker Casillas and Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova brought out the World Cup Original Trophy in its newly designed travel case by Louis Vuitton

The case created for Russia is covered in beautiful, lightweight yet hardwearing, laser-engraved Monogram Titanium. The trunk’s eight corners are protected with Louis Vuitton’s celebrated natural cowhide leather, and the lock and six clasps are made in ruthenium, a strong dark-grey metal, which has the chemical symbol Ru and was named after this year’s FIFA World Cup™ host.

Present World Leaders and Surprise Visitors

The list of presidents present at the Thursday event was an extremely short one but it is no real surprise due to the political tension of world country leaders with Russia in recent times, so this came with a twinge of sadness. Here is the list of the countries that made appearance:  Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, North Korea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Moldova, Paraguay, Panama, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan.

Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school-aged daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.

President Vladimir Putin’s opening address

Russian President Vladimir Putin officially opened the World Cup on Thursday 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 amidst cheers from the football fans.

He added that 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. 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.

After Putin, FIFA president Gianni Infantino also gave a speech in Russian, English and Arabic.

“As of today, for one-month football will conquer Russia and from Russia football will conquer the whole world – enjoy the biggest celebration on earth,” he said.

Saudi Arabia beaten by Russia in an unbelievable 5-0 scoreline

Russia 2018 tournament began with a contest between Saudi Arabia and the host nation, Russia who had been without a victory in seven games but exceeded expectations as they dismantled a hopeless Saudi Arabia defense to a whopping 5-0 win.

The fifth goal came mere seconds before the final whistle which had even Putin rolling back in his seat and puffing his cheeks in disbelief!

Entertainment and Robbie Williams’s Rude hand gesture

The opening ceremony was a relatively low-key affair. A large image of a football was overlaid on the pitch, with a stage in the centre, surrounded by dancers.

Former Real Madrid and Barcelona striker Ronaldo – who scored twice as Brazil beat Germany in the 2002 finals and was part of the winning squad in 1994 – walked out with a child wearing a Russia 2018 shirt and accompanied by Zabivaka the mascot.

British pop star Robbie Williams was a surprise headline act at the event. He had almost finished performing his hit Rock DJ when he raised his middle finger to a TV camera, provoking widespread outrage and no little confusion.

It was not obvious what the 44-year-old meant by the gesture but he is known to be a campaigner for LGBT rights

Russians Mingling and Security

It was not only a day when Russia was a happy surprise on the pitch. Outside the stadium, where some visitors had expected police and security services to be overly aggressive, they were an unobtrusive but reassuring presence. The security searches to enter the stadium were extraordinarily thorough, with fans being ordered to switch phones and other electronic devices on and off before submitting to a full body pat?down.

Locals spoke of concern that people would be apathetic towards football’s showpiece on their doorstep but Russian fans happily mingled with visitors in the afternoon sunshine.

Peru’s flying colours after 36 years of absence

The red and white of Peru was the dominant colour on the streets of Moscow, with many of their 35,000 fans travelling to Russia making a stop in the capital before their opening game in the city of Saransk on Saturday. Peru are returning to the World Cup after a 36-year absence and the country is united behind them. Juan Quiñónez, a former professional footballer, and his girlfriend, Tatiana, made the journey from Lima. “We are a very poor country so I’m not sure how all these people can afford to come,” he said, “but everyone feels they need to be here.”

The notable low moment in Moscow

This came with the arrest of Peter Tatchell. The LGBT campaigner was detained by police after standing beside the statue of Marshal Zhukov near the Kremlin holding a poster which read: “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people.” He was later released and will have a court hearing on 26 June while organisers hope they can keep the spotlight on the football in the meantime.

One-person protests are usually legal in Russia and official approval is needed only for protests of two people or more. But during the World Cup, a temporary rule has been introduced meaning even one-person protests are illegal in some areas.

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