While anticipation grew at home for Morocco’s World Cup semifinal match against France on Wednesday, fans in Qatar struggled to secure tickets and some were left stranded after more flights to Doha were cancelled.
With victories over top European teams Belgium, Spain, and Portugal, Morocco’s performance at the first World Cup hosted by an Arab nation—the best World Cup run by a team from Africa or the Arab world—has been applauded from Baghdad to Bamako.
The national colors of red and green have been used to fill stadiums thanks to the thousands of Moroccans who have flown into Doha, including many from Morocco and others from the country’s diaspora in the Gulf and beyond.
As Morocco gets ready to play against France, the two-time World Cup champion, former colonizer of Morocco, and country of many Moroccans, their ranks of supporters from the Middle East and Africa have increased.
Before the first formal ticket checks to prevent anyone without tickets from attempting to enter the stadium, there was a significant security presence at Al Bayt Stadium in al-Khor as fans arrived hours before kickoff, including mounted police and metal security cordons.
At other Morocco games, ticketless spectators gathered in large numbers outside the stadium, occasionally obstructing the entrance for others and starting fights with the police and other spectators.
The majority of the initial crowd in the stadium was dressed in Moroccan attire, with only a small number carrying blue French scarves. Some also carried Palestinian flags and scarves, while others carried Algerian flags, Morocco’s neighbor.
“Everyone in the Arab world is supporting them from their whole heart and with prayers. God willing we will win,” said Othman Abu Mizan, a Morocco fan near the stadium
Moroccans who arrived overnight on additional planes said they had anticipated receiving their tickets at the airport, but many were let down.
“Ninety-five per cent of people on the plane didn’t have a ticket,” said Mohammed, who had waited for tickets alongside his wife and three children.
Both Moroccans living in Doha, Mohammed Amzil, 30, and Mehdi Gandouze, 25, spent the entire night in line at a stadium where some free tickets were being distributed.
“We spent the night here and the end of the day and we didn’t get anything,” Amzil said, adding that he had seen sporadic fights between some of those waiting unsuccessfully.
Authorities instructed spectators without tickets to watch the game on a big screen outside the stadium’s police barrier.
After Royal Air Maroc announced overnight that seven planes — or half the additional flights intended to travel — had been canceled, other fans were left in Morocco. The cancellations were attributed to limitations put in place by the Qatari government.
Requests for reaction from Qatar’s international media office went unanswered.
The appearance of several spectators without match tickets, according to Youssef Chippo, a Moroccan former national team player and BeIn sports channel commentator in Qatar, was a factor in the cancellations.
Prior to kickoff, anticipation was high in Morocco. An outpouring of patriotic pride was visible in the flying of flags from houses and buildings. Soccer anthems were chanted by schoolchildren in Rabat.
Tarek Idrissi, a 31-year-old dual citizen of France and Morocco, was getting ready to watch the game at his father’s house outside of Paris when it started.
“Football is from the heart and guts and I am 200 per cent behind Morocco,” he said, promising to join other Moroccan fans celebrating on the Champs Elysees in Paris if Morocco win.
About 90 minutes before he was scheduled to attend the game, French President Emmanuel Macron waved to people as he went through the bustling Souq Waqif district of Doha.
After Qatar received harsh condemnation from rights organizations for its treatment of migrant workers who were involved in the preparation work in the tiny Gulf state, he had dismissed suggestions he should boycott the World Cup.
No Arab nation had ever advanced past the round of 16, and no African nation had ever made it all the way to the semifinals.
“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 legends from Africa and the Middle East sent their congratulations following Saturday’s victory over Portugal.
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.
To accommodate more spectator seats for the game, cafes in Rabat removed tables. Customers could purchase interior spaces at one cafe.
“We are playing the champions. We are anxious but so happy at the same time. Long live Morocco!” said Mounia Tazi, climbing from her car with two friends to enter a cafe.
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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