TV stations move time of England’s World Cup opener – and ruin their chances


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Britain's television broadcasters could have pulled the rug out from beneath England's football team after putting heavy pressure on FIFA to change the kick-off time of their World Cup opener against Italy.

Roy Hodgson's men will meet Italy in the jungle city of Manaus on June 14 in a game that was originally scheduled for 9pm local time - which translated to a 2am kick-off time in Britain, and 3am in Italy. That has now been brought forward three hours to 6pm local time, and 11pm BST.

The original kick-off time was set so late for a very good reason: Manaus is in the heart of the Amazon, a city which sees temperatures of 32 degrees, and humidity that reaches a horrific 99% on three days out of every four during mid-June.

By playing at night, the match would have been in conditions that would have been both far cooler and much less humid, thanks to the late afternoon thunderstorms that often clear the air in the tropics. Playing later is by far the most sensible suggestion for the players' health, particularly given that both teams will have had to take a four-hour flight north to the city from their training bases near Rio.

But there's a bigger problem than that: TV ratings. Playing in the dead of night would have meant unprecedented low ratings for the game in both England and Italy, and widespread media reports claim that FIFA were inundated with requests from broadcasters to move the kick-off time immediately that the two teams came out of the hat.


Roy Hodgson said after the draw that he wanted to play as late as possible in Manaus, but admitted that the FA have no say in the matter.

"We're happy that it's then, of course, but it's out of our hands," Hodgson said before the change was made, clearly anticipating the worst.

FA chief Adrian Bevington explained that his body has no say in the matter.

"[The kick-off time] is something for TV and FIFA and we have no control over it," he said.

"But playing at 9pm in Manaus is clearly helpful from our side and from a football point of view. We can't deny that it's better to play in Manaus later in the day."


Hodgson added that he had hoped to be able to persuade TV companies and FIFA not to change a thing:

"Our views will be taken into account," he said. "How much resistance we can make I really don't know."

The answer to that question is now clear: no resistance at all when the all-important profits of TV stations are at stake.

Bevington later put a brave face on the situation: "We have been informed by FIFA of the change in kick-off time," he said. "Roy is aware, we are very relaxed about it and will continue to make the necessary preparations."

But the spectre of failure in the heat looms large over England: the sweltering conditions at Mexico '86 saw England lose their opening match against Portugal and they then draw 0-0 in their second game against Morocco.

And at the 2002 World Cup in Japan, a mid-afternoon kick-off in the quarter-finals against Brazil was played in temperatures of 37 degrees that seriously undermined England's efforts, and the exhausted players who had done brilliantly in the first half simply had no answer in the second period.

The only positive note for England is that conditions in Manaus are expected to be so extreme that the Italians will be no better-suited to the weather than England. But that's not likely to mean much, since the more measured Italian approach to the game will be far more suited to later afternoon heat in Manaus than England's blood-and-thunder approach.

And that's why the TV companies seem to have shot themselves in the foot with this one. An opening defeat against Italy - which is significantly more likely given the new kick-off time - will leave England in the unenviable position of needing a result against Uruguay to avoid leaving the competition early.

Group D was tough enough already, but it looks like ITV, the BBC and Italian counterparts Rai have seriously undermined England's chances in the World Cup before a ball has even been kicked.

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