Having the World Cup in Qatar creates unique tight schedule

GENEVA – There has never been a World Cup fixture schedule quite like this.

The first-ever World Cup in November and December – to avoid the Qatar desert heat – is just the start of other unique features.

For Qatar’s players and fans, as well as viewers around the world, games come early and often on a more intense schedule than any previous group stage. Four separate kick-off time slots are required for this tournament to run, although they have been used on the first Saturday of previous tournaments.

In Qatar, there will be consecutive matches for seven consecutive days to reduce this World Cup to just 29 days.

This is three days less in total than those used to play the 2018 tournament in Russia and the 2014 edition in Brazil.

A 32-day tournament using five full weekends was not available this time due to the deal FIFA had to make with European leagues and clubs in 2015 to knock the World Cup off in the middle of their national season.

The European Leagues group had warned of “very serious damage” to the sporting and financial interests of its members by closing them for at least six weeks.

As clubs and legendary stars like Erling Haaland take an extended break or head to training camps, World Cup players have an intense time ahead.

Teams in Groups G and H, such as Brazil and Portugal, have as few rest days as possible. To win the title, they will have to play seven games in just 25 days. The World Cup doesn’t even stop between the group stage and the round of 16.

“It will be a very tiring tournament, and it’s true that we start later,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said after the April 1 draw.

“The only benefit I see is starting on the 24th,” he said, noting that teams playing on November 21 – England, Netherlands, USA – have fewer days to prepare.

Santos, who wants those extra days before the tournament for training, highlighted the dilemma facing most of the 32 coaches at a World Cup where typically 75% of the players selected are employed by European clubs.

European domestic leagues mainly played matches until the last day on Sunday before players were mandated by FIFA to make their national teams.

This leaves only one week of official preparation instead of at least two weeks before a normal World Cup.

In the Premier League on Sunday, Ecuador players Moisés Caicedo and Pervis Estupiñán were on the pitch for Brighton exactly a week before their national side opened the World Cup against Qatar.

When the clock in Doha passed midnight on Monday – the November 14 deadline set by FIFA for players to be in the national team – squad members from Argentina, Brazil, France, Poland and Serbia were still on the pitch in Italy, where the Juventus-Lazio match ended around 11 p.m. local time.

“We don’t have time to prepare the squad, just seven days,” Croatian coach Zlatko Dalić said in April. “It will not be easy for us.

There was no perfect solution when FIFA confirmed the inevitable change of dates in 2015, agreeing that the World Cup could not be played or staged in June, when temperatures in Qatar reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Seven years ago, the favored European option of a tournament in January 2022 was rejected by FIFA leaders at the time due to a direct clash with the Beijing Winter Olympics.

“Of course it’s not an ideal situation to play in November and December,” said then UEFA General Secretary (now FIFA President) Gianni Infantino in March 2015, “and we would have preferred play in January because it would have had less impact.

Still, the deal to play in November and December created a five-month delay that proved essential when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on international football. Almost all World Cup qualifying matches scheduled for 2020 have been postponed.

When it comes to finalizing World Cup dates, a red line was to ensure the Premier League would have their traditional fixtures on December 26.

The happy solution for Qatar was to hold a four-week tournament with a traditional and auspicious Sunday final – the emirate’s national holiday on December 18.

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