Moscow, June 14 (IANS) Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the FIFA World Cup open after a colourful opening ceremony at the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium here on Thursday.
"The love of football unites the world in one team, independent of language or ideology," the Russian president stated during his speech, as reported by Sputnik news agency.
Putin said he hoped fans, players and officials enjoy their stay in Russia during the World Cup, reports Xinhua news agency.
"Football is truly loved here and it is called love at first sight, since our first official match here in 1897," Putin said.
"I hope fans and teams enjoy their stay in Russia, an open, hospitable and friendly country with people who have the shared values. Football brings us altogether in one team, we are united by this spectacular game," he added.
Putin congratulated "the large, multi-ethnic and harmonious world football family upon the beginning of the main global tournament", reports Tass news agency.
"This tremendous sports event is being held in Russia for the first time and we are sincerely glad about this. At first sight football in our country is not the most massive sport, but love for football in this country is real," he said.
"It is love at first sight -- starting from the very first official match that was played in Russia in 1897," Putin added.
"We were making preparations for hosting this grandiose event with responsibility and we did our utmost to let the fans, athletes and specialists to get immersed in the atmosphere of a marvelous football festival and, of course, to enjoy their stay in Russia -- an open and hospitable country, and to make new friends and associates."
FIFA chief Gianni Infantino also addressed the gathering.
Artistic performances from UK singer Robbie Williams and Russian operatic soprano Aida Garifullina were the highlights of the opening ceremony.
Two-time FIFA World Cup champion Ronaldo of Brazil and Sweden legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic also attended.
Former Spain captain Iker Casillas brought the trophy inside the ground.
Casillas, who helped Spain to win the 2010 edition of the World Cup, was accompanied by Russian model Natalia Vodionova and presented the trophy that the winning team will be awarded after the July 15 final, reports Efe news agency.
The trophy is made of more than six kilograms (13.2 pounds) of gold.
Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov were some of the political heavyweights at the event.