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FIFA confirms World Cup schedule change, Lusail Stadium stages first game

FIFA has confirmed that the 2022 World Cup will now commence one day early with host nation Qatar’s game against Ecuador on November 20, while Lusail Stadium, the centrepiece for the national team football showpiece, has staged its first competitive match.

News of an impending change to the World Cup schedule was first reported on Wednesday, with world football’s governing body confirming the switch yesterday (Thursday) evening. The match schedule for Qatar 2022 had been finalised when the group stage draw was made in Doha on April 1.

At that point, Al Thumama Stadium was due to stage the opening game, with the Netherlands meeting Senegal on November 21 at 1pm local time. Three further games had been scheduled for the opening day, including England v Iran (Khalifa International Stadium, 4pm KO), Qatar v Ecuador (Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm KO) and USA v Wales (Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 10pm KO).

Qatar will now get the opportunity to take the spotlight with a single game featuring the host nation on the new opening date of November 20, with the match against Ecuador retaining its original kick-off time and venue – Al Bayt Stadium.

FIFA said the change, following a “unanimous decision taken” by the Bureau of the FIFA Council, will allow the World Cup to kick off with an “even greater celebration for local and international fans”. Another change will see the Netherlands v Senegal game moved to a 7pm kick-off on November 21.

FIFA stated: “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.

“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.”

The decision is set to create complications for fans, with several rounds of ticket sales having taken place worldwide since last year. FIFA added: “Ticket holders will be duly notified by email that the relevant matches have been rescheduled and their tickets will remain valid irrespective of the new date/time.

“In addition, FIFA will seek to address any issues arising from this change in a case-by-case basis.”

Lusail Stadium opens up

Lusail Stadium became the eighth and final World Cup stadium to host its first game yesterday as Al Arabi defeated Al Rayyan 2-1 in a Qatar Stars League (QSL) fixture.

It was announced last month that Lusail Stadium would host its first match on August 11. The QSL, the top tier of domestic club football, included the stadium amongst a series of amendments to its schedule for the 2022-23 season.

Al Arabi’s game against Al Rayyan in week two of the season represented the first official test event for Lusail Stadium, with 20,000 fans admitted to the 80,000-capacity venue. A full-capacity test event was announced for the stadium earlier this month.

Lusail Stadium will host a special event on September 9 which organisers say will represent the “final milestone” in preparations for the World Cup. The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) announced that the stadium will stage the ‘Lusail Super Cup’ between the Saudi Pro League champions and Egyptian Premier League winners, followed by a concert from a “famous singer”.

Lusail Stadium, which is located in Lusail, a newly-built city located 15km north of central Doha, will host 10 matches during the World Cup, including the final, one semi-final, a quarter-final, a Round of 16 match and six group games.

Once the World Cup is over, Lusail Stadium will be transformed into a multi-purpose community space including schools, shops, cafés, sporting facilities and health clinics – all under the original roof of the stadium. During the conversion, most of the stadium’s 80,000 seats will be removed and donated to sporting projects around the globe.

Lusail Stadium is the final remaining Qatar 2022 venue to be officially unveiled after Al Bayt Stadium and Stadium 974 in November hosted their first games during the FIFA Arab Cup.

Image: Qatar 2022