England fans attend the training session of the English national team in Zelenogorsk, Russia
A global audience of 3.4 billion – almost half the world’s population – is expected to tune in to watch superstars Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and England’s Harry Kane serve up a feast of football.
The world’s biggest sporting event, which is taking place in Russia for the first time, will see 32 teams compete over the next 32 days for a place in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday, July 15.
Pop star Robbie Williams will perform at the opening ceremony inside the 80,000-seat arena – as will Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo, 77.
They will be joined in the 30-minute extravaganza by 500 dancers. Gymnasts and trampolinists will also be performing in a show that will pay homage to all things Russian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had his eyes on the world Cup trophy
I believe I should still be the England manager. While I will be extremely jealous I will be watching Gareth and the lads and hope they do extremely well
It will be followed immediately by hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in their opening group match which is being shown on ITV at 4pm.
Yesterday the Kremlin announced Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the opening ceremony but Britain is among countries whose officials are boycotting the tournament in the wake of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Russia said a number of heads of state and government will be attending, including the president of the Republic of Abkhazia and the president of the Republic of South Ossetia – both parts of the former Soviet Union.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions launch their bid for glory at 7pm on Monday when they take on Tunisia in their opening match in Volgograd which is being shown by the BBC.
Security is stepped up on the Moscow Metro as thousands of fans arrive for the opening ceremony
Millions of patriotic fans are expected to cram into pubs and bars up and down the country for the long-awaited start to the tournament.
England take on Panama in their second match on Sunday, June 24. The game, which is being played in Nizhny Novgorod, kicks off at 1pm and is also being shown on the BBC.
They take on Belgium in their final group stage clash in Kaliningrad at 7pm on Thursday, June 28.
Yesterday England’s footballers won an army of new fans as they trained for the first time after arriving at their World Cup base camp and invited 400 locals to join them.
England forward Dele Alli poses for a selfie following the training session
Delighted schoolchildren, many of them draped in St George’s flags, were given England goodie bags before the squad signed footballs and shirts for them.
England was hailed as “the motherland of football” as the squad were welcomed to the Stadium Spartak Zelenogorsk on the outskirts of St Petersburg where they have set up their training camp.
They had earlier been introduced one by one to the crowd to the strains of the Stone Roses song This Is The One.
Southgate and England captain Kane were handed gifts of korovai bread – a symbol of celebration often used in wedding ceremonies – and sweet tea by women in traditional dress.
England manager Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane receive gifts of korovai bread
The tea came in an ornate golden urn, which onlookers said resembled a large sporting trophy.
The squad are settling into the remote ForRestMix Club hotel in the village of Repino, 35 miles from St Petersburg.
They have had their own kitchen built at the hotel so Football Association chefs can prepare players’ meals.
Two cooks were the first members of the squad to arrive in Russia last week to set up the new kitchen and source local ingredients.
They will fly to every match with the squad at least 24 hours before the game to ensure that all their nutritional and recovery requirements are met.
Officials have also fitted special blackout blinds in players’ hotel rooms to stop almost constant daylight damaging their World Cup chances.
Their HQ is so far north they only get three hours of darkness between 12.30am and 3.30am.
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli said he nearly got up in the middle of the night because it was so light.
Of his first night in the team hotel, he said: “I woke up at three in the morning and I thought it was time to get up. I just went back to sleep.’’
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A police guard on the main entrance said: “They call it ‘white nights’ here. It is very difficult. We just don’t get any sleep because it is so light.”
Meanwhile fans travelling to Russia in time for the World Cup were last night caught up in a 15-mile tailback on the border.
Thousands of supporters heading out of Belarus found themselves snarled up in a monster jam on the Minsk to Moscow highway.
Officials said the congestion was caused by weight of numbers trying to reach Russia.
The two countries had hoped to avoid a logjam by agreeing supporters with passports and World Cup fan IDs could pass through Belarus without visas.
Sources said the delay appeared to be due to the manual checking of paperwork.
England fans have been taking planes, trains, cars, bicycles and even a yacht to try to make it to Russia.
Mitchell Jones and Jamie Marriott are cycling from Emsworth, Hampshire, to Volgograd for the Tunisia match.
The friends are raising money for the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK. Entrepreneur Graham Kentsley sailed to Volgograd for the match and a Chinese supporter is riding on horseback to all 11 host cities.
Meanwhile former England boss Sam Allardyce believes he should be leading the team at the World Cup instead of Southgate.
In a BBC documentary to be shown on Sunday, Allardyce, 63, says: “I believe I should still be the England manager. While I will be extremely jealous I will be watching Gareth and the lads and hope they do extremely well.”