FIFA officially moved the opening match of this year’s World Cup forward by one day to November 20 in a rare change to accommodate hosts Qatar.
FIFA’s top officials unanimously approved the decision, according to a statement, while Qatar said it would provide unspecified assistance to fans affected by the change.
On the old schedule, Qatar would have faced Ecuador in the official inauguration match on November 21, but Senegal would face the Netherlands first. Second would have been England vs. Iran.
Qatar was also dissatisfied because it had invested heavily in a massive opening ceremony show.
“Host country Qatar will now play Ecuador on Sunday 20 November as part of a stand-alone event,” said FIFA.
“The opening match and ceremony of this year’s tournament at Al Bayt Stadium have been brought forward one day following a unanimous decision taken by the bureau of the FIFA Council today.”
The bureau is made up of FIFA leader Gianni Infantino and the six heads of the contintental confederations.
“The change ensures the continuity of a long-standing tradition of marking the start of the World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions,” added FIFA.
The game between Senegal and the Netherlands in Group A has been moved from 1:00pm (1000 GMT) on November 21 to 7:00pm. The match between England and Iran in Group B remains unchanged.
Qatari organisers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, welcomed FIFA’s gesture immediately.
“Opening the first FIFA World Cup to be held in the Middle East and Arab world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Qatar,” said the organising committee in a statement.
“The impact of this decision on fans was assessed by FIFA. We will work together to ensure a smooth tournament for the supporters affected by the change,” they added without giving details.
Some Ecuador fans may have to change flights to arrive in Qatar earlier and football sources said the date switch could force changes to some World Cup contracts.
Official countdown clocks for the event were quickly changed. The 100-day countdown to the opening match will now start on Friday, instead of Saturday.
The decision was also announced as Qatar staged the first official match at the Lusail stadium which will host the December 18 World Cup final.