Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium gave a raucous reception as the 2018 FIFA World Cup got under way on Thursday with an opening ceremony to set the tone for the tournament.
Although opening ceremonies can sometimes be long and drawn out—see World Cup 1994 in the United States—hosts Russia proved there is a way to begin festivities swiftly.
Former Take That singer Robbie Williams was the highlight of the show after he was announced on short notice as a headline act, and he didn’t fail to live up to his expectations as a star entertainer of his generation.
The Russian influence on the floral design of the Luzhniki Stadium set was clear to see as Williams predictably opened with “Let Me Entertain You,” per the Press Association:
PA Dugout @PAdugout
📸 The World Cup got under way after British pop singer Robbie Williams took centre stage at the opening ceremony #WorldCup https://t.co/D6YBT3wROO
There was seldom a pause for reflection as Williams weaved through snippets of some hits, including “Feel,” and he linked up with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina for a rendition of “Angels”:
Yahoo Sport UK @YahooSportUK
Find someone that looks at you the way Robbie Williams looks at Aida Garifullina. #WorldCup #RobbieWilliams #RUS #KSA https://t.co/r2ih8VoDlc
In typical rockstar fashion, Williams surprised his worldwide audience by flipping off a camera near the climax of his performance. Bookmakers Paddy Power weren’t all that impressed:
Paddy Power @paddypower
Robbie Williams. #WorldCup https://t.co/wmKE7a8jSD
No awkward moments emerged, as can so often be the case with these sorts of ceremonial shindigs, although Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges did comment on the opening act perhaps being a tad outdated:
Kevin Bridges @kevinbridges86
Robbie Williams getting everyone right in the mood for World Cup ‘98 there..
That feeling would have been stronger had actor and rapper Will Smith appeared to perform the World Cup’s official theme song, “Live It Up,” which features Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi. Smith was scheduled to perform on Thursday, but it seems the act was shelved.
Moscow laid on a modest affair with numerous dancers in Russian-inspired outfits and a “firebird” exhibition, via Squawka:
Squawka News @SquawkaNews
The #WorldCup opening ceremony certainly didn't disappoint. 👏 https://t.co/P1WW5L1Qjg
As if Williams wasn’t enough, the BBC’s John Bennett reiterated the theme of nostalgia when 1994 and 2002 World Cup-winner Ronaldo made his arrival to present the trophy:
John Bennett @JohnBennettBBC
Ronaldo and Robbie Williams…
I’ve woken up in 1998.
The Brazil legend wound up for a penalty against the 2018 World Cup mascot, the wolf Zabivaka, only to sell the dummy and give his new canine friend a hearty high-five.
Before turning to Russia’s opening game against Saudi Arabia, however, there was a word from Russian president Vladimir Putin and FIFA equivalent Gianni Infantino.
AS noted how well-received Putin was by a home audience in Moscow compared to others:
AS English @English_AS
Putin gets a massive cheer. He's followed by Infantino, who doesn't get quite as much love from the crowd.
Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, sat two seats away from Putin as their sides prepared to face off, which broadcaster Richard Chambers felt was slightly poetic:
Richard Chambers🎙 @newschambers
Something very FIFA about Putin shaking hands with the House of Saud over Infantino. #WorldCup
As far as opening ceremonies go, Russia can be proud with the bonanza they laid on, which performed the impossible in raising excitement levels further while not boring its worldwide viewers.
Now all that’s left is for the quality of play at the World Cup to raise the bar again, which will be no small order in itself.