The FIFA World Cup 2018 kicks off in Russia on Thursday as years of preparations give way to a month-long feast of action on the field. Russia get the ball rolling against Saudi Arabia at the completely refurbished 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow after an opening ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin. Get live updates of the FIFA World Cup 2018 opening ceremony and Group A match between Russia and Saudi Arabia here. (LIVE STREAMING INFO)
20:30 hrs IST: Do remember that we have VAR in this World Cup.
20:28 hrs IST: The teams are here for the national anthems. We are just minutes away from the kick-off.
20:23 hrs IST: The planet’s biggest football tournament is here. We are seriously happy to be the host – Putin
20:20 hrs IST: Now, Russian president Vladimir Putin addresses the stadium.
20:17 hrs IST: The opening ceremony has ended as we are less than 15 minutes away from the first match of the FIFA World Cup.
20:14 hrs IST: Williams is now on the ground entertaining the fans.
20:10 hrs IST: Ronaldo arrives as the whole stadium is on its feet.
20:09 hrs IST: Now, Williams is joined by Russian soprano Aida Garifullina for a duet on Angels.
20:08 hrs IST: Williams is dressed in a burgundy suit and is surrounded by dancers in red costumes
20:05 hrs IST: Williams sings his famous number – Let me entertain you
20:00 hrs IST:Robbie Williams is here as the opening ceremony starts. The World Cup is here finally. The celebration, the rivalry, the madness, and most importantly the BEAUTIFUL GAME
Russia’s Aleksandr Samedov and Aleksandr Golovin during the warm up with team mates before the match. (REUTERS)
19:50 hrs IST: The playing XIs for the opening match have arrived!
Russia: Akinfeev, Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Gazinskiy, Zobnin, Samedov, Golovin, Dzagoev, Smolov.
Saudi Arabia: Al-Maiouf, Al-Breik, Omar Hawsawi, Osama Hawsawi, Al-Shahrani, Al-Faraj, Otayf, Al-Jassim, Al-Shehri, Al-Dawsari, Al-Sahlawi.
19:47 hrs IST: The opening ceremony to start in 10 minutes – Bhargab Sarmah says!
Iker Casillas and model Natalia Vodianova present the World Cup trophy before the ceremony. (REUTERS)
19:39 hrs IST: The slump has led to Russia being the lowest ranked team in the 32-team tournament as they occupy 70th position in the FIFA rankings but Cherchesov believes his side can pose a challenge.
19:35 hrs IST: On the other hand, Russia have not won an international match since a friendly win over South Korea last October and their pre-World Cup outings have resulted in defeats by France and Austria along with a draw with Turkey.
19:30 hrs IST: Warm-up losses to Italy, Germany and Peru have not made for the best preparations for the Saudis as they chase a first victory in the World Cup finals since 1994 in their first appearance in the showpiece event since 2006.
19:25 hrs IST: Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saudi Arabia would play without fear on Thursday when they look to become the first team to inflict defeat on a host nation in the opening match of a World Cup.
19:18 hrs IST: We are 15-20 minutes away from the opening. But before that let’s discuss on the two teams which will be clashing in the match.
Saudi supporters react ahead of the group A match between Russia and Saudi Arabia which opens the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki stadium. (AP)
19:13 hrs IST: Our correspondent in Moscow – Bhargab Sarmah – says the organisers are about to bring the trophy to the stadium.
His twitter handle is @BhargabSarmah – do follow him for World Cup videos, news and other updates, straight from Russia.
19:06 hrs IST: Russia has welcomed the world to the World Cup on Thursday as cheerful fans are streaming into the stadium.
19:04 hrs IST: 32 teams will fight it out over the next one month for the greatest prize in world football.
19:00 hrs IST: Welcome everyone to the greatest show on earth!
The showpiece event will begin with hosts Russia crossing swords with Saudi Arabia in the Group A in the opening match.
Russia, who are tournament’s lowest-placed team at the 70th spot in the FIFA’s World Rankings, are heading into the showpiece event in full strength, but they are yet to win a friendly in 2018.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, are placed at the 67th position and are entering the tournament on the back of their World Cup preparations in an international friendly with Italy. Saudi Arabia went on to lose that match 0-1.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia have fired two coaches since qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Edgardo Bauza was sacked as the coach only after five friendlies in charge.
While Russia will be surrounded by their home fans and hope to get off to a winning start in the tournament, Saudi Arabia will still be cheered on by a contingent of fans– who have travelled all the way to Moscow to support their national side.
The opening ceremony will be a star-studded affair dotted with the presence of singer Robbie Williams and Russian soprano Aida Garifullina.
American actor Will Smith will also be performing the World Cup’s anthem alongside Kosovan singer Era Istrefi and Nicky Jam.