Robbie Williams causes a stir with middle-fingered salute at World Cup opening ceremony

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The finals are officially under way after an understated opening ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium - with the ex-Take That star stealing the headlines

The World Cup was ushered in on Thursday after a short ceremony that featured the unlikely duo of British pop star Robbie Williams and Russian president Vladimir Putin and a shock obscene gesture from the singer.

Williams initially took centre stage ahead of the tournament opener between the hosts and Saudi Arabia by performing three of his greatest hits, one alongside Russian soprano Aida Garifullina.

During his performance, however, the ex-Take That man shocked viewers by holding his middle finger up to a nearby camera. 

There was an also impromptu change of lyrics in the middle of 'Rock DJ', as "Pimping ain't easy, most of them fleece me", became "but I did this for free".

Williams had attracted accusations of 'selling out' by some human rights campaigners by agreeing to appear alongside Putin at the opening ceremony.

Putin then addressed the crowd at the Luzhniki Stadium and the millions watching around the world, saying: "We are sincerely happy to host the World Cup in our country.

"Football is truly loved here. Russia is an open, hospitable and friendly country. Whatever traditions we hold, football brings us together in one single team and we are united by our affection for this spectacular and vibrant game.

"I wish all the teams success and an unforgettable experience to fans. Welcome to Russia."

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino also spoke briefly, claiming: "For one month, football will conquer Russia and from Russia, football will conquer the world.

"Thank you President Putin and thank you Moscow."

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