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Date-change overshadows 100-day countdown

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Fifa and Qatar organisers on Friday counted the cost of bringing forward the start of the World Cup by a day as they launched the 100-day countdown to the event.

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Football’s ruling body and the wealthy Gulf state both promised action to help fans, sponsors and broadcasters hit by the change, announced late Thursday, but did not give details.

The sudden move to bring forward Qatar’s match against Ecuador by 24 hours — to make it the gala opening match — has only added to the public relations concerns as the conservative host country counters criticism of its rights record and fan worries about what to expect when they arrive.

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“It is less than three months from the start. This has come out of the blue. It is not critical but it is a headache,” said an executive for one World Cup broadcaster, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Fifa said its president Gianni Infantino and the six heads of the continental confederations had unanimously agreed to make Qatar’s game and the official opening ceremony a “stand-alone” event.

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“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,” Fifa said in a statement.

Under the old schedule, Qatar against Ecuador was to be the official inauguration match on the evening of November 21 but Senegal against Netherlands would have been the first match of the day, followed England against Iran.

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Under the new plan, the Group A game between Senegal and the Netherlands has been shifted from 1:00pm (1000 GMT) on November 21 to 7:00pm start.

Fifa said tickets for the affected matches “will remain valid irrespective of the new date/time.”

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

Qatari organisers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event since winning hosting rights in 2010, welcomed Fifa’s gesture for their “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to host the event.

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