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Russia 2018 World Cup watch: Robbie Williams and the Russians entertain us

PUBLISHED: 12:22 15 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:28 15 June 2018

Robbie Williams and Aida Garifullina perform at the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Group A match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Robbie Williams and Aida Garifullina perform at the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Group A match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

PA Wire/PA Images

Read our irreverent World Cup blog which will be featuring every day during the tournament. Today we have sports journalist Layth Yousif reviewing the first day of the eagerly-awaited tournament...

File photo dated 14-06-2018 of Robbie Williams.File photo dated 14-06-2018 of Robbie Williams.

So. How was it for you?

A group of blokes beating up on a weaker opponent, even if no-one particularly likes them, leading to a possible expulsion early on.

But that’s enough about Love Island, and the boys ganging up on Eyal – even if he’s not an endearing character anyway – as the couples get ready to vote the least compatible team out of the competition,

I was talking about Russia against Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia fans in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Group A match against Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (pic Adam Davy/PA)Saudi Arabia fans in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Group A match against Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (pic Adam Davy/PA)

Or to be precise the human rights derby. Where Autocratic Regime Rovers faced Women Drivers Banned Argyle.

But first, what about Robbie Williams eh?

Resplendent in a shiny purple suit singing Let Me Entertain You to get us in the mood for the 1998 World Cup.

No wait. It’s 2018.

A Russia fan in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Group A match against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (pic Adam Davy/PA)A Russia fan in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Group A match against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (pic Adam Davy/PA)

You can tell it is because the former Take That singer had morphed into a Morrissey-lookalike.

Although, with the news that tireless LGBT-rights organiser Peter Tatchell had been held after a arriving in Moscow, perhaps loveable Robbie should have sang ‘Let Me Illegally Detain You’.

Thankfully, there was no truth in the rumour the Stoke-born entertainer thought it was still SoccerAid, and started searching for his ‘pal’ Jonathan Wilkes in the Russia line-up.

I followed England home and away for years and I’ve also been fortunate enough to report on the Three Lions from the Wembley press box, including games against Scotland, Spain, Germany and Brazil – and as a UEFA-accredited sportswriter I was asked to do freelance work in Russia this month.

The 2018 World Cup is being played in RussiaThe 2018 World Cup is being played in Russia

16 years ago this week I was in Japan watching every England game during the 2002 World Cup, and, despite it being an incredible month – to be at the match in Sapporo watching England beat Argentina 1-0 in the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido was one of my favourite-ever matches and experiences – being at a tournament is gruelling.

I’ve been to five international tournaments in all and, quite simply they leave you knackered after a month abroad.

After being on the road through the 2017-18 season covering 109 football matches in total from the press box I thought I’d give travelling to Russia a miss, as a fan or journo.

However, it didn’t stop me savouring ITV’s version of the Eurovision Song Contest during their coverage on Wednesday, even if Vladimir Putin’s translator sounded like Alan Partridge after drinking his favourite tipple at the Linton Travel Tavern.

In fact I don’t know what was more frightening, the sight of Putin or the sound of his interpreter, and his strange use of inappropriate tones – even if it was utterly gripping.

As a someone said, channelling their inner-Father Ted, ‘and now we move on to the liars’ as the camera panned to the shot of the Saudi King shaking hands with Putin while FIFA boss Gianni Infantino looked on approvingly.

It was almost like the start of a joke: ‘So, Putin, Infantino and the King of Saudi walk into a bar...’

The World Cup may only be a day old but already we have been presented with iconic images: the leaders shaking hands in a freeze frame which perfectly encapsulates geopolitics, even if they looked like sub-par Bond villains.

And, in a far more uplifting sight, a shot of a rainbow flag being held aloft in the crowd, in a country where gay people are still discriminated against.

I also particularly liked America’s Fox TV helpfully putting up their own translation for viewers at home while Putin was speaking.

It read: ‘Putin speaking Russian’.

But what about the football?

Well it was an important match between Russia and Saudi. The winner got to run US foreign policy.

Or as England’s 1986 midfielder, Peter Reid, tweeted with a nod to the poor football on display in the first 45 minutes: “The Dog and Duck v The Red Lion’.

Thankfully there was no truth in the rumour that the quality was so bad Robbie Williams led the way in the voting for Player of the Tournament at half-time.

I did suffer a pang of disappointment when a completely unmarked Yuri Gazinsky headed his first goal for Russia before substitute Denis Cheryshev evaded several weak challenges and smashed home at the near post close to half-time – if only because neither player is actually included in my Panini World Cup sticker album.

It also irritated me that a certain English referee – who is known for his penchant for wearing expensive watches bigger than the ones Premier League players sport – was asked his views on contentious moments.

If only because no English referees were considered good enough by FIFA to be invited to the global jamboree – so why should we, the poor viewer, be inflicted their views?

I have to say I was impressed with Alexsandr Golovin when he played for CSKA Moscow against the Gunners when I covered the sides’ two-legged Europa League quarter-final tie back last season.

The talented Golovin also had a good game against the Saudis,

Even if they were possibly the worst side ever to compete in the World Cup that hadn’t arrived by boat in any of the three World Cups held in the 1930s.

I recall being at London Colney hearing Arsene Wenger play a dead bat when talking about Arsenal’s possible interest in Golovin back in March. Will new boss Unai Emery be more proactive. Only time will tell.

For me the World Cup starts in earnest today with Egypt v Uruguay. Mo Salah against Luis Suarez, even if the Liverpool idol will start from the bench.

Not to mention a Spanish side in complete disarray after sacking Bernabeu-bound boss Julen Lopetegui 48 hours ago – against Real Madrid’s Madeira-born Ronaldo’s Portugal.

I for one can’t wait.

Because by the time the tedious – and utterly vacuous – Mexican Waves started as Russia went 5-0 I’d already started ‘second screening’ the latest on Love Island.

Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29.

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