The World Cup kicked off in truly lavish fashion as host nation Russia put on a star-studded display at the opening ceremony to officially commence the start of the global showpiece.

The tournament kicks off in earnest with Russia taking on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium, with the hosts harbouring the added pressure of impressing in front of their home fans.

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.

The World Cup kicked off in truly lavish fashion as host nation Russia put on a star-studded display at Luzhniki Stadium

The World Cup kicked off in truly lavish fashion as host nation Russia put on a star-studded display at Luzhniki Stadium

The World Cup kicked off in truly lavish fashion as host nation Russia put on a star-studded display at Luzhniki Stadium

Robbie Williams will perform four songs as part of the opening ceremony for the 2018 World Cup – with his controversial single ‘Party Like a Russian’ not included on the set-list.

The decision to book the former Take That member, who will sing for free at the Luzhniki Stadium, to sing at the opening ceremony has met with surprise when it was announced by FIFA on Monday.

His 2016 single ‘Party Like a Russian’ attracted negative press in the country as the song appears to criticise the excesses of Russian oligarchs.

The plans for the opening ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium were a closely-guarded secret.

Williams – described by FIFA as a ‘global music icon’ – will perform at certain points throughout the scheduled 15-minute pre-tournament build-up.

The 44-year-old will open his 1998 single ‘Let Me Entertain You’ at the start of proceedings after spending time on stage with former Brazil striker Ronaldo.

Russian harpist Alexander Boldachev will then take centre-stage, with a large ‘fire bird’ entering the pitch carrying operatic performer Aida Garifullina.

She will perform a duet of Williams’ smash-hit ‘Angels’ with the Stoke-born singer, who will also bring the ceremony to a close by singing ‘Rock DJ’.

Other supremely talented Russian musicians including violinist Yuri Bashamet, the 2007 Grammy winner for best small ensemble performance, and pianist Daniil Trifonov, another Grammy winner from 2017 for best classical instrument solo, will also take to the stage.

Former Spain captain Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup in 2010 and brought the trophy out ahead of the ceremony

Former Spain captain Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup in 2010 and brought the trophy out ahead of the ceremony

Former Spain captain Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup in 2010 and brought the trophy out ahead of the ceremony

Casillas raises his hand to acknowledge the crowd after placing the trophy on a plinth, denoting it is up for grabs once more

Casillas raises his hand to acknowledge the crowd after placing the trophy on a plinth, denoting it is up for grabs once more

Casillas raises his hand to acknowledge the crowd after placing the trophy on a plinth, denoting it is up for grabs once more

Goalkeeper Casillas and model Natalia Vodianova show the World Cup trophy prior to the World Cup opening ceremony

Goalkeeper Casillas and model Natalia Vodianova show the World Cup trophy prior to the World Cup opening ceremony

Goalkeeper Casillas and model Natalia Vodianova show the World Cup trophy prior to the World Cup opening ceremony

Former Spain captain Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup in 2010 and will bring the trophy out ahead of the ceremony, with the 32 flags representing the competing nations being unfurled during the the performance of ‘Angels’.

There will be around 800 people involved in the on-stage activities, which are being held closer to kick-off than in recent finals – with Williams not due to finish his set until 15 minutes before Russia get the tournament under way against Saudi Arabia.

Williams said opening the event to 80,000 fans and many millions all over the world was a boyhood dream, and added: ‘We’d like to invite football and music fans to party with us in Russia, in the stadium, or to tune in their TVs a little earlier for an unforgettable show.’

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