GENEVA (AP) — The match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador will finally be the opening match of the World Cup, adding another day to the competition.
The World Cup is set to start a day earlier than planned as FIFA studies a proposal to allow the hosts to face Ecuador on Nov. 20, a person familiar with the plan told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to discuss the plan. There are almost 100 days left before the start of the tournament.
The decision could be made as early as this week by a committee made up of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the leaders of the six continental soccer confederations.
According to a letter sent by FIFA this week and seen by the AP, soccer’s governing body asked the confederations to give the go-ahead before Thursday.
Sunday would be exclusively for Qatar to mount the opening ceremony and debut in the tournament at the Al Bayt stadium, with a capacity for 60,000 spectators.
For now, the World Cup should start on November 21, a Monday. FIFA determined this in 2015 by agreeing that the tournament would be held at the end of the year to avoid the extreme heat of the desert in June and July.
A shorter 28-day schedule was also agreed following talks with influential leagues in Europe that will play club matches until November 13.
In the most recent editions of the World Cup, the hosts Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018 had exclusive opening days to measure themselves against their first rivals. But Qatar’s tighter format requires playing four games a day during the group stage — 48 in 12 days.
The match schedule, with the official opening ceremony in the third match, when Qatar was due to play, was finalized after the draw in Doha on 1 April. The Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador were in Group A along with the hosts.
The Netherlands-Senegal was scheduled for 13:00 local Doha time. Qatar-Ecuador remained as the third duel, scheduled for night shift six hours later on the same day.
The proposal to create a 29-day tournament instead of 28 was backed by Qatari authorities and CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American soccer, and the Qatari and Ecuadorian soccer federations had participated in the talks, the person said.
FIFA acknowledged in its letter that changing the date, after tickets have been sold, would affect fans who have made travel reservations. However, FIFA said “all risks are sufficiently balanced by the value and commercial benefits of the proposal.”
A Qatar-Ecuador would have few players from European clubs. Several of the members of the Tri — such as Pervis Estupiñán, Diego Palacios and Romario Ibarra, play for clubs in Spain, the United States and Mexico, whose leagues will have stopped activity prior to the weekend of November 12 and 13.
The change would have been more complicated to achieve if Qatar had had to debut against the Netherlands, which has several figures playing until November 13 with clubs in England and Italy.
As a result of the proposal, FIFA is expected to delay the start of the Netherlands-Senegal, putting it now in the night schedule.
While a Sunday night opener in Qatar suits viewers in Asia and Europe, in the United States it puts the World Cup in direct competition with NFL games. The United States team will debut against Wales in the last game on Monday.
The 2022 World Cup is the first in its 92-year history to be played outside of the summer. The other 21 editions were held between the end of May and the end of July.
The November 21-December 18 schedule was agreed so that European clubs could play the weekend of November 12-13 before releasing their players for the 32 World Cup teams.
The final will be played on a Sunday which is Qatar’s National Day, which would give a full week for the players to return to their clubs before the December 26 matches on the traditional Boxing Day of the Premier League.
Qatar made its bid as host for June and July, promising innovative cooling technology to combat heat expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) during the first World Cup held in the Middle East.
In December 2010, Qatar won a controversial selection process and defeated the United States 14-8 in the final round of FIFA executive committee voting.
More than four years later, FIFA changed the dates of the tournament so that it would be played in temperatures around 25 to 30 degrees Celsius (77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Now, seven years later, the World Cup modifies its dates again.