Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcoming the "friendly global family" of football fans to celebrate the World Cup, hitting a unifying note to start the tournament.
With geopolitical tensions running high between Russia and the West, Putin sought to dispel his country's reputation as isolated and repressive. He hailed his "hospitable and friendly country" and urging visiting fans to meet new friends and people who share the same values.
As the Russian national team met Saudi Arabia in the opening match in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, he said "unity defies differences in language, ideology or faith."
Critics fear Putin will use the tournament to legimitize Russian authorities' crackdown on opposition and some minorities.
Cheers of "Ro-si-ya, Ro-si-ya!" or "Russia, Russia!" roared through the stadium as he spoke. FIFA president Gianni Infantino addressed the crowd in Russian and said "football will conquer the entire world" during the cup.
It's the first time Russia is hosting the World Cup.