Russia kicked off their World Cup in style this afternoon, thumping Saudi Arabia 5-0 in front of an ecstatic crowd in Moscow after President Vladimir Putin officially opened the tournament.
Putin told the 80,000-strong crowd at the Luzhniki Stadium before the match kicked off: "I congratulate all of you at the start of the most important championship in the world."
"Love for football unites the entire world in one team, regardless of people's language or ideology," Putin said to thunderous cheers.
Then, to the delight of the home fans, Iury Gazinsky headed Russia in front in the 12th minute after a cross from Aleksandr Golovin. Substitute Denis Cheryshev rifled home a second shortly before half-time.
France boast possibly the most talented squad while national team captain Lionel Messi is desperate to make amends for Argentina's defeat in the 2014 final.
The preparations of 2010 winners Spain are in tatters after coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked just two days before their opening game on Friday against Portugal. He had angered his federation by taking the job of Real Madrid manager.
Neymar, the world's most expensive player, has recovered from a broken bone in his foot in time.
Egypt's coach said prolific striker Mohamed Salah is "almost 100 percent" to play in their opening match against Uruguay on Friday after he had intensive treatment on the shoulder injury he suffered playing for Liverpool against Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Hearts and minds
The money lavished on the tournament will boost Putin's already sky-high prestige at home by giving many of the 11 host cities their first facelifts in generations.