FIFA has moved the start of the Qatar World Cup forward by a day, meaning the tournament will now begin on Sunday, Nov. 20, rather than the initially scheduled date of Monday, Nov. 21.
The first game of the finals will now be the host nation Qatar’s clash with Ecuador on Sunday at 7 p.m. rather than Senegal’s match against the Netherlands.
It means the World Cup will be extended to 29 days, with the final taking place on Sunday, Dec. 18.
The announcement was made on Thursday following what FIFA said was a unanimous decision by a committee comprising FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the presidents of the six continental soccer bodies
“The change ensures the continuity of a long-standing tradition of marking the start of the FIFA World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions,” FIFA said in a statement.
“The decision followed an assessment of the competition and operational implications, as well as a thorough consultation process and an agreement with key stakeholders and the host country.”
Qatar’s opener was scheduled to be the third match on Monday at 7 p.m. local time (4 p.m. GMT, 11 a.m. ET), and sources have told ESPN that moving it to Sunday will allow the opening ceremony to take greater prominence.
Senegal vs. Netherlands will now be played at 7 p.m. on Monday — the slot left vacant by Qatar’s match being moved — with the other two games on that day — England vs. Iran and United States vs. Wales — unaffected.
FIFA said it would “seek to address any issues arising from this change in a case-by-case basis,” adding that tickets would remain valid irrespective of the change in date/time.
FIFA got agreement from soccer officials worldwide in 2015 to delay the tournament previously set for the usual June-July period, when temperatures routinely hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in Qatar.
Qatar committed to stay on soccer’s normal calendar and promised innovative stadium cooling technology when it bid for World Cup hosting rights in 2009-10.
When FIFA accepted the inevitable need to delay until Qatar’s cooler months, a tough negotiation with European leagues and clubs led to the 2015 agreement for a shorter, 28-day program to minimize disruption for domestic soccer that relies on weekend games.
European leagues such as England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A will play through the Nov. 12-13 weekend, just seven days before the new opening game date.
Those leagues will shut down during the World Cup, which ends with the final on Qatar’s National Day. The Premier League is the first to resume on Dec. 26.