World Cup Kicks Off With Robbie Williams Performance

Robbie Williams
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

The British pop star got the World Cup off to a swinging start with his live performance at the opening ceremony in Moscow. The "Let Me Entertain You" singer caused a minor controversy when he flipped the middle finger at TV cameras during the show (leading to Fox, which was carrying the event life in the U.S., to publicly appologize to viewers). Williams didn't explain his reason for the gesture, but the 44-year-old singer had been heavily criticized before the ceremony for accepting the invitation to perform in a country known for its laws banning homosexual "propaganda."

Roughly 78,000 people attended the tournament's opening match at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

Robbie Williams and Russian opera diva Aida Garifullina on Thursday performed before the World Cup's opening soccer match at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

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.