The 2018 FIFA World Cup officially kicked off on Thursday with host nation Russia beating Saudi Arabia five goals to none.
The first World Cup on Russian soil will be played in 12 stadiums located across 11 cities.
With a maximum capacity of 80,000 spectators, the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow was the site of the opening ceremony and will also be the grounds for the final game, scheduled for July 15.
In a departure from what has become the norm for opening ceremonies, this year’s inauguration was shorter and less flamboyant than what many would have expected, lasting some 30 minutes and featuring British pop star Robbie Williams as the celebration’s highlight.
|Russia delivered a thundering performance, netting a total of five goals against Saudi Arabia [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]|
Football fans, however, had their sights set elsewhere.
The fact that two of the world’s best players, Portuguese centre-forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentine playmaker Lionel Messi have not yet won the cup for their respective countries – despite the duo dominating the beautiful game virtually unopposed – has captured the minds of spectators from around the world.
The Barcelona prodigy came close to winning the coveted trophy – and with it the $400 million cash prize – in 2014 before conceding a fatal goal in extra time by Germany’s Mario Gotze.
|General view of the opening ceremony at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]|
Currently at their peak, some analysts say this is the pair’s last chance at claiming the title and with it a spot among football’s greatest names.
One thing is certain though: Neymar’s Brazil and defending champions Germany won’t make it any easier for either player.
In other developments, the football world governing body FIFA has embraced the technology of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) which will be used for the first time in the tournament’s history.
No speech was delivered at the ceremony, but Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a brief welcome before the match to the thousands of spectators, who included Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.