English singer Robbie Williams began the World Cup by displaying an obscene gesture towards the camera during the opening ceremony.

The pop star was singing at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow before the first game of the tournament when he showed his middle finger to the TV cameras, with hundreds of millions of viewers expected to tune in.

Williams had been criticised in both Russia and England before the event for agreeing to participate in the ceremony.

The 44-year-old had said he was told not to use his song “Party Like A Russian,” which Pro-Kremlin media outlets suggested mocked Russian oligarchs, while critics in England objected to Williams performing at such a major event for a country that has been accused of human rights abuses.

The 15-minute show produced by Russia’s state Channel One broke from World Cup tradition, focusing on musical acts including a performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky in front of full stands at the capital’s main stadium.

Iker Casillas and Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova brought the World Cup trophy onto the pitch in a Louis Vuitton travel case.

Williams performed hits “Let Me Entertain You” and “Rock DJ” — but not his controversial “Party Like A Russian — while accompanied by dancers and freestylers. He was joined in a duet by Garifullina, a soloist from the Vienna State Opera, who entered the pitch on a firebird, singing Williams’ hit song “Angels.”

The opening ceremony was followed by the first match between the hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Information from Reuters was used in this report.