Qatar World Cup poised to start a day earlier than planned

·2-min read
The Al Bayt Stadium will host Qatar's World Cup opener against Ecuador on November 20 - AFP
The Al Bayt Stadium will host Qatar's World Cup opener against Ecuador on November 20 - AFP

Fifa is poised to ratify an unprecedented change to the World Cup schedule fewer than three months before it is due to start, with hosts Qatar having decided they want their national team to play the traditional opening fixture on Sunday, November 20 rather than the following day as previously agreed.

The bureau of the Fifa council – the head of the six federations that cover the world game – is expected to announce the decision this week along with Fifa president Gianni Infantino. There is agreement from Conmebol, the South American federation who effectively represent Qatar’s opponents in that first game, Ecuador. The South American country is not in dispute of the decision.

Qatar’s game against Ecuador had been scheduled to be played at 7pm local time in Qatar on Monday 21 November, the third game of the opening day after Senegal vs Holland at 1pm and then England vs Iran at 4pm. It is anticipated that the Senegal vs Holland game will switch to the 7pm slot on the Monday which would make England’s game the first of the second day of the tournament.

It is traditional that the hosts or the reigning champions play in the first game. Since the 2006 tournament it has been the hosts. Sources claim that the Ecuadorian football federation are on board with the decision and that any fans who have booked flights that are now too late for the game will be considered for compensation on a case by case basis.

Telegraph Sport has been told Fifa will look into compensating fans forced to alter or cancel plans to attend the Qatar vs Ecuador game as a result of what would be a late date switch. The feeling among Fifa sources is that most of the attendees are likely to be Qatari nationals who will be best placed to adapt to the new date.

The biggest disruption will be caused to broadcasters who will have integrated the World Cup games into their programming months ago and will now be obliged to rearrange Sunday to accommodate the opening ceremony and the new opening game.

Networks have been planning their coverage of the World Cup finals for years and the change of date will cause them the biggest logistical problems given the demands of live television. It will also require sponsors to adapt, as well as the performers in the opening ceremony.

The plans seem to have been discussed for some time among the higher echelons of the supreme organising committee in Doha and at Fifa. While the late change is remarkable given the usual long-term planning process, it will not be met with any major resistance because those whom it inconveniences most will know that any complaints are futile.

The Premier League will resume on Boxing Day, eight days after the World Cup final on December 18.