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Hosts Qatar are set to play in their opening game World Cup tournament after all — and a single day is added to the schedule barely 100 days before kickoff.
The soccer tournament is set to start a day earlier than originally planned seven years ago, allowing Qatar to play Ecuador on Nov. 20, a person familiar with the proposal told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter.
The proposal will be submitted for consideration by the commission FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the heads of six continental soccer bodies, the person said. A decision is expected this week.
According to a letter sent to FIFA this week and seen by the AP, the governing body is seeking approval from continental soccer bodies by Thursday.
Qatar are now set to get an exclusive slot on Sunday for the opening ceremony and World Cup debut at the 60,000-capacity Al Bait Stadium.
The World Cup is currently scheduled to start on November 21, a Monday, based on a decision by FIFA in 2015 after it agreed to postpone the tournament to avoid the intense heat of the desert in June and July. FIFA also agreed to a shorter 28-day program to minimize disruption to domestic football, particularly in Europe, which will be shut down before the World Cup.
A recent FIFA World Cup tradition has given 2014 hosts Brazil and 2018 hosts Russia exclusive opening days to play their first opponents. But the tighter schedule in Qatar saw four games a day throughout the group stage — 48 games in 12 days.
At the draw for the tournament in Doha on April 1, the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador were drawn into Group A with Qatar. The Dutch and Senegal were scheduled to kick off at 1pm local time, while Qatar were due to play Ecuador in the third game with an evening kick-off six hours later.
The proposal to create a 29-day tournament instead of 28 was supported by Qatari officials and the South American soccer organization CONMEBOL, and the Qatari and Ecuadorian soccer federations also participated in the talks, the AP told the agency.
FIFA acknowledged in its letter that the change to the date after tickets went on sale would affect some traveling fans. However, FIFA said that “any risk is sufficiently outweighed by the value and benefits of the proposal” commercially.
The Qatar – Ecuador game features only a few players who play for European clubs. Several of the likely Ecuadorian roster are playing for clubs in Spain, the United States and Mexico, where the leagues halt play before the Nov. 12-13 weekend.
A schedule switch would be harder to accept if Qatar were to open against the Netherlands, with key players playing clubs in England and Italy until November 13.
FIFA is expected to move the Netherlands-Senegal match from a midday kick-off to the early evening due to the proposal, which will be vacated by Qatar.
While Sunday night’s opening game in Qatar should appeal to viewers in Asia and Europe, it puts the World Cup in direct competition with NFL games in the United States. The U.S. national soccer team plays its first World Cup match against Wales late Monday in Qatar.
The 2022 World Cup is the first in the tournament’s 92-year history to be held outside the traditional northern hemisphere summer. All previous 21 editions were held between the end of May and the end of July.
November 21 – December. An 18-tournament schedule was agreed to allow European clubs to play on the weekend of November 12-13 before releasing their players to the 32-team World Cup. The change to the opening day should not change the tournament’s rule that players must report from their clubs to their national teams no later than November 14, FIFA said in the letter.
The final will take place on Qatar National Day, Sunday, allowing the players to return to the clubs for a full week before Major league plays its traditional games on Boxing Day on December 26.
Qatar’s original bid to host the June-July tournament was made with the promise of innovative stadium cooling technology to beat the heat, which is expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) during the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East.
In December 2010, Qatar won a controversial bid, beating the United States 14-8 in the final round of voting by FIFA’s executive committee, a group later discredited by corruption scandals.
More than four years later, FIFA has moved the tournament to dates when temperatures are expected to be around 25-30 degrees C (77-86 degrees F).
Now, in another seven years, the dates will change again.