As Morocco’s airline cancelled numerous further flights on Wednesday, hundreds of Moroccan soccer fans who were trying to go to Qatar to watch their team become the first from an Arab or African nation to compete in a World Cup quarterfinal were left stranded.
Travelers were disappointed by the cancellations, which Royal Air Maroc (RAM) attributed to the Qatari government, but the North African nation was in a festive mood ahead of Wednesday’s match against France, which was once Morocco’s colonizer and is now the home of many Moroccan players.
As a result of Morocco’s victory over top-tier European teams like Spain and Portugal in the first World Cup held by an Arab nation, success has been applauded in bars and cafes from Baghdad to Bamako.
Since RAM promised more tickets on 30 additional flights, thousands of Moroccans have already traveled to Qatar, and hundreds more have rushed to get tickets at the last minute. Only 14 flights, according to a source at a RAM travel agency, were arranged.
“Following the latest restrictions imposed by the Qatari authorities, Royal Air Maroc regrets to inform customers of the cancellation of their flights operated by Qatar Airways,” the airline said in an emailed statement.
Requests for reaction from the international media office of the Qatari government went unanswered right away.
The flight cancellations, according to Youssef Chippo, a former Moroccan national team player who now serves as a commentator for the BeIn Sports channel in Qatar, were caused by the presence of several supporters in Doha without match tickets.
In previous knockout matches in Qatar, a wealthy but small country, thousands of people showed up at stadiums without tickets and tried to enter. Moroccan fans occasionally brawled with police.
“Ninety-five per cent of people on the plane didn’t have a ticket,” said Mohammed, a Moroccan fan outside Al Janoub stadium in Qatar where the match will be held, waiting with his wife and three children in the hope of receiving more information.
Long before the match even started, Morocco was in a celebratory mood. An outpouring of patriotic spirit was visible in the flying of flags from houses and buildings. In the Moroccan capital Rabat, schoolchildren sang soccer anthems.
“Morocco winning would mean much for Muslims around the world,” Mohamed Zulfadhli Abd Rahman, a citizen of Brunei who was shopping for a Morocco football shirt in Rabat, said.
Beyond Morocco’s borders, pride in an African team’s achievement has been felt.
Prior to this, no Arab nation has advanced past the quarterfinal round. No African nation had made it past the quarterfinals.
“I feel so excited that Morocco is still in the race to lift the World Cup. It will be a privilege for Africa,” said Aureline Meli, 24, a management assistant in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.
Presidents, prime ministers, and sports stars from Africa and the Arab world sent their congratulations following the quarterfinal victory over Portugal on Saturday.
The entire squad or individual players’ images were plastered on billboards in Rabat, which are currently in demand by advertisers from banks to telecom businesses. Armloads of mementos for sale were carried by street merchants throughout the ancient city.
Originally scheduled to travel 500 km (300 miles) from Rabat to the city of Nador on Wednesday, the bus driver announced that he would instead depart on Thursday.
“I am delaying my departure until tomorrow to be able to enjoy the match,” he said, asking that his name was not published so his employer did not get angry with him.
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