After months of feverish build-up, the eyes of the world will be trained on Russia’s capital Moscow on Thursday afternoon as the 21st FIFA World Cup gets underway.
32 nations from every part of the globe will compete over 64 matches to determine which will hold aloft the famous trophy at the Luzhniki Stadium on July 15.
Hundreds of thousands of fans are descending on Russia and those attending Thursday’s opening fixture between the host nation and Saudi Arabia are gathering in Moscow.
A Russian supporter wearing elaborate headgear posed with Saudi Arabian fans in Moscow ahead of the World Cup opener
Cheerleaders in Russian traditional costume welcome supporters ahead of Thursday’s World Cup opener in Moscow
Locals wave the Russian flag in the centre of Moscow as they pose with visiting Mexican supporters ahead of the tournament
Host nation Russia get their World Cup underway against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday afternoon
The eyes of the world will be fixed on the country of Russia for the next five weeks as 32 teams contest the 21st World Cup
A contingent of Saudi Arabia fans pose with a replica of the World Cup trophy outside the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow
Saudi Arabia fans make their way to the Luzhniki Stadium as they prepare to start their campaign against hosts Russia
As well as optimistic locals waving the red, blue and white colours of their national flag in Red Square, there were supporters of Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and other teams were making their presence felt.
There was a small contingent of Saudi Arabian fans dressed in the green of their national team and armed with scarves, hats and horns.
Fans danced, waved flags and sung their nation’s songs as the hours ticked down to the opening game, which will be watched by a sell-out of over 80,000 at Russia’s national stadium.
Fans of many countries, including Costa Rica (pictured) have gathered in Moscow ahead of the big World Cup kick-off
Russian fans pose for pictures with tourists in the centre of Moscow as World Cup fever starts to take hold in the host nation
This group of Colombia fans were making their presence felt in the centre of Moscow ahead of the tournament opener
Peru will be among the best supported side in Russia as they appear in their first World Cup finals in 36 years
Peru fans cheer and wave their red and white national flag as they exit the Metro close to the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday
Fans of all nations gathered at the Fan Zone in the centre of Moscow to watch the opening ceremony and first match
A view of the Moscow skyline from the Fan Zone constructed in the Russian capital city for the tournament
Fans from China make their way to the Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the opening World Cup match between Russia and Saudi
Prior to that, an opening ceremony featuring Robbie Williams and other pop stars, will officially lift the curtain on the tournament.
From then on, it’s essentially wall-to-wall football for the next five weeks with as many as four matches per day during the group phase.
Cheerleaders wearing traditional Russian dress and freestyle footballers entertained the early arrivals at the Luhzniki Stadium, one of a number of venues in the 11 host cities to be exhaustively renovated for the tournament.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has sanctioned spending running into billions of pounds on stadiums, transport, accommodation and other infrastructure as the world fixes its gaze on his country.
But for all the new stuff, the usual suspects remain favourites to win the trophy next month.
Germany are bidding to become the first nation since Brazil back in 1962 to retain the World Cup, but they will face stiff competition from the likes of France, Spain, Brazil and Argentina.