The World Cup kicked off in Russia Thursday as the host nation took on Saudi Arabia in front of 80,000 people in Moscow after President Vladimir Putin officially declared the tournament open.
Russia is spending more than $13 billion (11 billion euros) on hosting football’s showpiece, the most important event in the country since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.
Minutes before the game started in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Putin said: “I congratulate all of you at the start of the most important championship in the world.”
The buildup has been dogged by controversy and diplomatic scandals and has shone a light on the challenges facing Putin’s Russia.
On the day of the curtainraiser, Russia freed the main opposition figure to Putin, Alexei Navalny, from jail after he served a 30-day sentence for organising an illegal protest.
Excitement has been steadily building in Moscow, with thousands of Saudi fans in green and white arriving in the city for the match.
British pop star Robbie Williams performed at the opening ceremony at the Luzhniki, which will also host the final on July 15.
The World Cup favourites enter the fray this weekend.