Skift Take

Royal Air Maroc's last-minute flight cancellations is a bitter disappointment for hordes of Moroccan soccer fanatics desperate to be in Qatar for their country's World Cup semifinal against France.

Hundreds of Moroccan soccer fans desperate to reach Qatar to watch their team become the first from an Arab or African country play in a World Cup semi-final were left stranded on Wednesday as Morocco’s airline scrapped several extra flights.

The cancellations, which Royal Air Maroc (RAM) blamed on the Qatari authorities, left travellers downcast but did not dampen a party mood in the North African country before Wednesday’s match against France, Morocco’s former coloniser and now home to many Moroccan players.

Morocco’s success so far has been cheered in bars or cafes from Baghdad to Bamako as fans have celebrated its victories against top ranked European teams, such as Spain and Portugal, in the first World Cup hosted by an Arab country.

Thousands of Moroccans have already travelled to Qatar and hundreds more had raced to buy tickets at the last minute, with RAM promising more tickets on 30 extra flights. But a source at a RAM travel agency said only 14 flights had been scheduled.

“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.

The Qatari government’s international media office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Youssef Chippo, a Moroccan former national team player working in Qatar as a commentator for BeIn sports channel, said the flight cancellations were linked to the arrival of many fans in Doha without match tickets.

Moroccan fans have at times scuffled with police in previous knockout games in Qatar, a wealthy but tiny nation, as thousands of people arrived at stadiums without tickets and tried to enter.

At Doha airport, fans arriving overnight from Casablanca said they expected to receive tickets on arrival based on what they had read on social media and in the Moroccan press. But they said had not been given any.

Ninety-five percent 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.

Jubilant Mood

In Morocco, the nation was in jubilant mood long before kick off. Flags fluttered from homes and buildings in an outpouring of national pride. School children in the capital Rabat chanted 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.

Pride in the success of an African team has been felt far beyond Morocco’s borders.

No Arab country had previously progressed to the quarter final stage. No African country had reached a semi-final.

“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.

After the quarter final win against Portugal on Saturday, congratulations poured in from African and Arab presidents, prime ministers and sporting legends.

In Rabat, billboards were pasted with pictures of individual players or the whole team, now hot property for advertisers of everything from banks to telecom companies. In the old city, street vendors carried armfuls of memorabilia for sale.

A bus driver who was supposed to be driving 500 km (300 miles) from Rabat to the city of Nador on Wednesday said he would now leave on Thursday instead.

“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.

(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi and Jihed Abidellaoui in Rabat, Andrew Mills in Doha and Amindeh Blaise Atabong in Yaounde; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Edmund Blair)

This article was written by Ahmed Eljechtimi and Andrew Mills from Reuters and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].


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Tags: fifa, morocco, qatar, royal air maroc, soccer, world cup

Photo credit: Thousands of Moroccan soccer fans have frantically made plans to attend their country's World Cup semifinal match against France. Антон Зайцев / Wikimedia Commons

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