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Williams’ performance was part of a short, 20-minute opening ceremony, which also featured dozens of dancers, flame-throwing machines and young women wearing skirts stylized as flags of the World Cup’s 32 participating teams.
The singer, who started off his performance by flipping off the camera, was joined by Garifullina during his rendition of the song “Angels,” and they sang part of it holding hands.
The ceremony and the game were attended by a diverse crowd coming from all corners of Russia and the world. Roughly 78,000 people showed up at Luzhniki, which was a little short of the arena’s maximum capacity of just under 80,000.
Williams’ performance during the opening ceremony was announced just days before the World Cup’s kickoff and triggered backlash from some British politicians who accused the singer of supporting the Russian leadership by performing in Moscow. Williams’ performance was followed by an address from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stayed to watch the game in the company of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Gianni Infantino, president of the international soccer governing body FIFA.
Contrary to many expectations, the Russian team thrashed the Saudis in the opening game 5-0 to the cheers of local fans. After the match, Putin hugged the Saudi prince, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The World Cup, hosted by Russia for the first time ever, is set to run in the country’s 11 cities through July 15.
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