Russia inaugurates FIFA World Cup with ceremony boycotted by Western leaders

Key Western leaders boycotted the ceremony to avoid legitimizing the Putin state.

Russia inaugurates FIFA World Cup with ceremony boycotted by Western leaders
Russian fans ahead of the World Cup 2018 opening match against Saudi Arabia. (IANS Photo)

Moscow: Russia on Thursday inaugurated Eastern Europe's first FIFA World Cup with a celebratory - albeit awkward - ceremony due to the shortage of Western leaders in attendance.

The 81,000-seat Luzhniki stadium looked its best at the opening ceremony and is the site of the tournament's first match which pits the host country against Saudi Arabia.

During the opening ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, wished all the teams good luck, expressing the hope that the fans will acquire unforgettable memories.

The ceremony was also attended by the presidents of Bolivia and Panama as well as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud.

Key Western leaders, meanwhile, boycotted the ceremony to avoid legitimizing the Putin state.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might attend their national teams' matches, but the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, Denmark and Iceland have announced that they will not travel to Russia.

Meanwhile, Barcelona team president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Real Madrid's Emilio Butragueño and stars such as Paolo Maldini, Carles Puyol and Samuel Etoo all attended the opening ceremony and match.

Spain's former goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, presented the FIFA World Cup trophy at the stadium.

Casillas, who helped Spain win the 2010 edition of the World Cup, was accompanied by Russian model Natalia Vodionova to display the trophy that will be awarded to the winning team after the July 15 final.

The ceremony included a mix of the distinguished elements of the Russian arts - such as classic music and ballet - and modern Russian pop culture.

Also, British music star Robbie Williams performed at the ceremony, giving the stadium - for a spell - the feel of a nightclub.

The ceremony reached a climax when Williams and Russian soprano Aida Garifullina jointly performed the Briton's hit "Angels."

After Williams' performance it was the turn of the Russian ballerinas, pianists and violinists to give the ceremony a refined touch.

In 1961, Russia - then the USSR - was the first nation to send a man into orbit and so the game ball for the opening ceremony was sent to the International Space Station and returned to earth in time for the World Cup.

World Cup ambassador Victoria Lopyreva brought the ball onto the field right before the match began.

Legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo was the guest of honor at the ceremony and took the honorary kick-off, alongside tournament mascot Zabivaka.

Actually, Ronaldo did not touch the ball, that honor being given to a Russian child instead.