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With one crude gesture, Robbie Williams sums up the whole tawdry circus of Putin’s World Cup, says ROBERT HARDMAN 

2 30 1299

Radiating all the magic of root canal treatment, the sleaziest global sporting event since the 1936 Berlin Olympics kicked off the evening with a charmless little ceremony and a lopsided match between the two worst teams atVladimir Putin's latest vanity project.

ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley neatly captured the esprit of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in his opening line: 'A game between the world's two biggest crude oil-producing nations.'

The hosts, Russia, were indeed playing Saudi Arabia. There sat President Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince, either side of the president of the utterly discredited world football authority, FIFA. What a perfect curtain-raiser for a tournament that has always been about money.

Remember this championship was a perversion of justice the very moment FIFA awarded it to Russia back in 2010. Since that vote – in which England's bid came last by a mile – the world footballing authority has been exposed as a global extortion racket. Its former president, Sepp Blatter, has now been banned from having anything to with football for six years.

Of his cabal of corkscrew-shaped ex-FIFA officials, some are in the clink, some are awaiting sentencing and others are fighting extradition to the USA which has been probing global soccer corruption ever since.

No such problems for our World Cup hosts, however. During the same period, the Russians may have invaded their neighbours, shot down a civilian airliner, stirred up war in Syria, been banned from the Olympics and organised state-sponsored terrorism on the streets of Britain. But none of that has ever threatened to dislodge this World Cup from the grip of President Putin.

'Russians love football. It is what we call love at first sight,' declared the ex-KGB colonel ahead of last night's kick-off in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. 'Welcome to Russia!'

Unfortunately, the host broadcaster was so inept that Putin appeared to be speaking in front of a half-lit garage door.

We were thus spared the sight of the full galaxy of stars filling the presidential box around him. Putin's stature as a revered world statesman was reflected in a VIP turnout consisting of the leaders of Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Moldova, Panama, Paraguay, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and South Ossetia. Oddly, none of these except Panama actually had a team in the tournament.

At least the opening ceremony was mercifully brief. Unlike the Olympics, World Cup opening ceremonies are governed by FIFA, not by the hosts. FIFA had decided to keep the overture to the most politically sensitive World Cup of all time to a minimum – 15 minutes in fact.

They had chosen Robbie........

© Mail Online