Showtime at the World Cup: How will Russia measure up to the all-time greats?

The official mascot of the 2018 Fifa World Cup called Zabivaka is seen at Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, Russia June 13, 2018. — Reuters pic
The official mascot of the 2018 Fifa World Cup called Zabivaka is seen at Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, Russia June 13, 2018. — Reuters pic

PETALING JAYA, June 14 — Results and upsets aside, the opening and closing ceremonies of the World Cup are undoubtedly events to look forward to whether or not you’re a footie fan.

With some of the known pop acts of all time showcasing their best throughout the history of the World Cup every four years, the 21st edition should be no different.

Robbie Williams is set to perform at the opening for Russia 2018 — an odd choice considering the hunky former Take That member is no stranger to controversy when it comes to Russia.

His single, Party Like a Russian, released two years ago courted controversy for stereotypes of the country, and Williams was quick to take to Twitter to deny it was about Russia President Vladimir Putin.

Last year, he jokingly offered to represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest in an interview on Russian state-controlled Channel One television.

Controversies aside, Williams, 44, has promised an unforgettable performance, joined by Russian soprano Aida Garifullina just before Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off the event at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

Built in the 1950s, the venue was used during the 1980 Olympic Games and is home to Spartak, CSKA and Torpedo football teams. It will host the first and last match as well.

Football’s governing body, Fifa, has promised a “musical extravaganza” that will also see Brazilian two-time World Cup winner Ronaldo bringing the trophy before 80,000 fans in the stadium. 

No word though if World Cup anthem Live It Up performed by Nicky Jam featuring Will Smith and Era Istrefi will be performed.

Russia’s Channel One will produce the show, with the creative concept developed by Felix Mikhailov who directed ceremonies held throughout the entire Russia 2018 Fifa World Cup campaign from the preliminary draw in 2015 right up to the closing ceremony.

Mikhailov had said Russia will be introducing a new format for the Fifa World Cup opening and closing ceremonies, in terms of their duration and start time closer to kick-off.

“At the same time, the action will extend beyond the stadium, encompassing the city and the area around the Luzhniki Stadium.”

A day before the opening ceremony, pianist Denis Matsuev will be joined by global opera stars Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, Roberto Alanya, Ildar Abdrazakov, Aida Garifullina and Albina Shagimuratova for a concert at Moscow’s Red Square on June 13.

While it’s unknown how the party in Russia will actually stack up to previous years, here’s a guide on our picks of the best opening ceremonies in World Cup history


1. South Africa 2010

With the biggest and most commercially successful World Cup anthem in history, Shakira and her performance of Waka Waka alone made the event a spectacle that goes down as the best ever.

It was so good that she performed it at the opening AND again at the closing ceremony.

Some 1,500 performers took part in the 40-minute show which included an aerial display by the South African Air Force, drummers, dancers, a gigantic beetle, a smoking calabash, musicians and artists from African nations and controversial R&B star R. Kelly.

2. Germany 2006

Theatricality was the key with drummers, choral singers, an orchestra and dancers and much more accompanying the “tearing away” of the pitch to reveal a red carpet for the show to begin.

Pushing it up the rankings was the electrifying performance from who else, but Shakira with Hips Don’t Lie featuring Wyclef Jean.

The Latin bombshell took to stage for her third World Cup appearance in the 2014 World Cup closing ceremony with La La La to a roar from the crowd in Rio’s Maracana Stadium.

3. France 1998

It was all a carnival of cabaret performers as hundreds of Parisian street performers took to the field in a cartoonishly colourful affair.

Four “giant” players and stilt walkers stood tall as balls, flowers and smoke provided a kaleidoscope of frenzied action that included trampolines.

The pitch turned into a humongous bouncy castle fantasy with complete with huge floating footballs emerging from “flowers” before “stripping” down to coloured globes that released balloons.

4. South Korea/Japan 2002

It was all about culture and heritage, with dancers in traditional costumes, and some mean choreography as the world got a taste of Asia in the first instalment hosted for the first time outside Europe or the Americas.

It also set the record as the first and only time it was jointly hosted, AND the last event to use the golden goal rule.

The event itself should have been more memorable for being the year of the underdogs, as Senegal beat France in the group stage and Turkey advanced to the semi-final, as the world watched the trio of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo whip up some true magic on the field.

However, while many smirked at loud jeers for then Fifa president Sepp Blatter as the governing body went through its own political turmoil, the 2002 World Cup will be remembered as the most controversial with dodgy refereeing in the group stages.

Perhaps that’s the reason why it’s impossible to get footage online of the opening ceremony? Or maybe it’s because the rest of the world apart from Asia didn’t appreciate the cultural show?

It’s not just about pop stars, people!

5. USA 1994

Hosted by Oprah Winfrey, Diana Ross gave a stirring performance beginning a medley that with her classic I’m Coming Out, that also saw her not putting the ball at the back of the net as planned.

While it may not be the most memorable, it was definitely one of the earliest World Cup opening ceremonies that went down well for its entertainment value.