The 2018 FIFA World Cup officially kicked off in lavish fashion yesterday with host nation Russia beating Saudi Arabia five goals to none.
Thousands of revellers packed inside the sold-out stadium to witness the dazzling opening ceremony, with all the bells and whistles which have become synonymous with similar events of World Cups’ past.
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 show 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.
In a performance beyond the wildest dreams of even the most ardent home fans, two goals from substitute Denis Cheryshev were the highlight as Russia ended a seven-match run without a win in style.
ury Gazinsky got the party started early, heading Russia in front in the 12th minute before Cheryshev rifled home a second shortly before half-time.
Another substitute, Artem Dzyuba, made it 3-0 with about 20 minutes remaining before a delicious late goal from Cheryshev with the outside of his left boot and a fifth from Aleksandr Golovin sealed the rout.
Victory for Russia, ranked a lowly 70th in the world — three places below Saudi Arabia — was vital for the home nation’s hopes of progressing, with tougher games against Egypt and Uruguay to come.
“There are no words to express what I’m feeling right now. I’m happy we won and happy I could help my team,” said man-of-the match Cheryshev.
“I felt very happy when I knew I would be here in the squad but I never dreamed of anything like this.”