GENEVA (AP) — The World Cup in Qatar could start one day earlier than scheduled with FIFA looking at a plan to let the host nation play Ecuador on Nov. 20, a person familiar with the proposal told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person said a decision could be made within days by a committee comprised of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the heads of the six continental soccer bodies.
The proposal to create a 29-day tournament instead of the long-planned 28 has been favored by Qatari officials and South American soccer body CONMEBOL, with talks also involving the Qatar and Ecuador soccer federations, the person said.
The World Cup is set to open on Nov. 21, a Monday, with the Netherlands facing Senegal at 1 p.m. local time in Doha. Qatar and Ecuador are also in Group A but that match was scheduled to start six hours later on the same day.
The match schedule — with the official opening ceremony at the third match when Qatar was scheduled to play — was finalized after the draw was made in Doha on April 1.
A Sunday start for the World Cup had been ruled out several years ago when a shorter, 28-day schedule requiring four games each day during the group stage was agreed to by FIFA after talks with influential leagues in Europe which will play club games through Nov. 13.
However, a Qatar-Ecuador game involves few players who are with European clubs and would give the host nation an exclusive day to open its tournament.
The opening ceremony could now actually be before the opening game, at Al Bayt Stadium, and open up the early evening slot on Monday for the Netherlands and Senegal.
The 2022 World Cup is the first in the tournament’s 92-year history to be played outside of the traditional northern hemisphere summer. The previous 21 editions were all played between late-May and the end of July.
FIFA finalized a decision in 2015 to avoid the searing heat in Qatar’s summer and move to November and December, despite opposition from most of European soccer unhappy at shutting down their domestic leagues for several peak weeks.
The Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament schedule was agreed to so that European clubs could play on the Nov. 12-13 weekend before releasing their players to the 32 World Cup teams.
The final will be played on a Sunday that is Qatar’s National Day, allowing a full week for players to return to clubs before the Premier League plays its traditional Boxing Day games on Dec. 26.
Qatar bid to host in June-July promising innovative stadium cooling technology to overcome 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 contest beating the United States bid 14-8 in a final round of voting by the FIFA executive committee.
More than four years later, FIFA moved the tournament to be played on dates when temperatures should be around 25 to 30 degrees C (77 to 86 degrees F).
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Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press