Russia Soars High Despite Short, Unexciting Opening Ceremony

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Vanessa Obioha

World Cup opening ceremonies are usually a spectacle to behold. It avails the host country the opportunity to showcase its culture and beauty to the rest of the world. The fanfare is usually similar to a circus show and involved gymnasts, musicians and other side attractions that depict the spirit of the game. Due to the array of activities involved, opening ceremonies are usually lengthy but that was not the case in Russia yesterday when FIFA World Cup 2018 officially kicked off.

It was the shortest in the history of world cup tournaments. In thirty minutes, English pop-star Robbie Williams and Russian Soprano artiste Aida Garifullina the thousands of football fans with their songs, the Russian President Vladimir Putin made a speech, national anthems sung, and the game began.

So fast-paced were the performances that at one blink, moments were missed.

The ceremony began with a pre-recorded video of the violinist Yuri Bashmet and the pianist Daniil Trifonov performing Tchaikovski on a floating platform on the Moscow river. Brazilian football star Ronaldo, a child and Robbie Williams waltzed into the lush green field that accompanied by dancers and other performers. Without much ado, Williams launched into singing ‘Let Me Entertain You’ from his 1997 album ‘Life Thru a Lens’. Just as he was rounding up the performance, the harpist Alexander Boldachev began to play. Aida Garifullina made an impressive entrance by arriving in a firebird. The colourful performers in the pitch played with the firebird’s feathers while Williams returned to perform ‘Feel’, the lead single from his 2002 album Escapology.

The performance quickly segued to another hit track of the artist ‘Angels’. He was joined by Garifullina while 32 pairs consisting of a matching man and a woman dressed in the colours of the participating teams took to the field. Meanwhile 211 kids of the “Football for Friendship” programme waved their flags while spectators held golden stars. Russian model Victoria Lopyreva brought the official ball in. The ball went into space earlier this year, spent some time on the International Space Station and got back on June 3. Ronaldo however performed the symbolic kick by passing the ball to the mascot, Zabivaka. Robbie although not captured on camera performed one last song before Putin took to stage to make his welcome address.

In a rousing speech, Putin whose country won the bid to host the World Cup eight years ago welcomed the world to his country and encouraged them to bask in their hospitality.

“We have been responsibly preparing to host this wonderful event and we have done our upmost for fans, athletes and experts to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a splendid football feast, and of course we hope they enjoy their stay in Russia, an open, hospitable and friendly country, and meet new friends – people with whom they share the same values.”

His comments seemed placating as fans have expressed doubt on the kind of reception that awaits them after the ugly incident at France two years ago during the European Championship. But Putin is aware of this and renders comfort with his words. He went on to boast about the love of football in the country, describing it as a ‘Love at First Sight’.

He continued: “Let’s just think of it: we, the devoted fans of football, are so numerous where billions of people on our planet wherever we live, whatever traditions we hold, football brings us together in one single team and we are united by our affection for this spectacular, vibrant, uncompromising game and also players of these teams have a great degree of mutual understanding, a unity which cannot be affected by different language, ideology or faith. It represents the power of football and sport as a whole. The power of its humanistic beginning.

“Our duty is to preserve this power of humanity for generations to come for the sake of developing sports and strengthening peace and mutual understanding between people. I wish all the teams’ success and an unforgettable experience for the fans. Welcome to Russia.”

Putin’s speech was immediately followed by FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino, who stated that “As of today, for one month, football will conquer Russia and from Russia, football will conquer the world.”

With that, the opening ceremony came to a halt.

The abruptness of the ceremony denied viewers and fans the exciting pleasure experienced at the last World Cup held in Brazil in 2014. While the host nation Brazil back then had challenges in meeting up with the deadline before the official game began, it nevertheless gave the world an intriguing spectacle that celebrated the splendor and richness of the South American nation.

From the beautiful colours of Brazil that were boldly displayed in a giant flower and the dancers attires to the pulsating rhythms of Samba, Brazil did justice to the biggest football show on the planet. It depicted the scenery and nature of its environment by having men wrapped with a wonderful dress of leaves and women dressed in purple with lotus leaves. Their display projected the rich Amazon heritage of Brazil.

Russia definitely failed in evoking that familiar feeling of giddiness that followed such occasion as a country that is hosting the World Cup for the first time. Expectations were hardly met but to Russia, this may not pose a worry as they successfully beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their opening match. A victory Putin relished as he watched the Russian team jubilate after their fifth goal. Perhaps the breathtaking performance Russia denied us in the opening ceremony may be accomplished in its closing ceremony when Will Smith and Nicky Jam will perform the FIFA World Cup 2018 official song ‘Live It Up’.