Robbie Williams marred what had been a vintage performance of his greatest hits during the World Cup’s opening ceremony by showing his middle finger to the camera.
The former Take That singer was the star turn of a colourful, 15-minute performance which featured a duet of ‘Angels’ with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina, lots of dancers and Brazilian football star Ronaldo.
Williams made the offensive gesture during his last song, ‘Rock DJ’, having opened with ‘Let Me Entertain You’ and ‘Feel’, which means he decided not to perform ‘Party Like a Russian’, the song which lampoons oligarchs.
Despite the ill-mannered sign-off, the Russian crowd appeared to love the 44-year-old’s showmanship and many in the crowd knew the lyrics.
Within minutes of the Port Vale fan leaving the pitch, the real main man here took centre stage: Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president started by welcoming sports fans around the globe to a “splendid football festival in a hospitable and friendly country”.
Putin said “Russians love football” and for them it had been “love at first ever since the first official game in 1897”.
But in a speech that went on a little longer than they usually do on these occasions, Putin made several veiled references to the country’s current isolation on the global stage after a series of diplomatic crises.
He talked about “sport’s humanistic value” and its power for supporting “peace and understanding between nations”.
By this point some in the Luzhniki Stadium were getting restless but nobody had the courage to tell him to hurry up.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino spoke next, in Russian, English and Arabic, a gesture that was warmly greeted by both sets of fans, Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s.
“As of today, for one month football will conquer Russia and from Russia football will conquer the whole world – enjoy the biggest celebration on earth,” said Infantino in English.
The national anthems were then played, and sung gustily, handshakes were made and the 2018 World Cup’s first game kicked off with a match ball that spent March orbiting the earth in the International Space Station.
The next 32 days are going to be one hell of a ride.