Hundreds of Moroccan football fans have been left devastated as last-minute flight cancellations look set to stop them travelling to Qatar for Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final.
Morocco’s national airline Royal Air Maroc had planned to run seven additional flights ahead of the game.
It made the decision after Morocco’s Football Association (FA) promised to give fans 13,000 free tickets to the clash with France.
But on Wednesday, it said Qatari officials had blocked the flights.
“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 a statement to the Reuters news agency.
It is unclear why Qatari officials ordered the airline to stop the flights, and the government’s central communications office has yet to respond to a BBC request for comment.
In a post on its social media channels on Monday, the airline had offered to lay on 30 additional flights as part of “an exceptional flight schedule” to help fans get to Qatar.
Affiliated travel agencies later said there would be just seven extra flights.
The cancellations left a number of fans who had already booked tickets and hotel rooms out of pocket.
The airline offered a full apology and said it would reimburse passengers.
Meanwhile, a number of Moroccan expatriates have been arriving in Qatar, attracted by the promise of free tickets from the country’s FA.
About five million Moroccans are estimated to live around the world, with many of them in France.
But as fans arrived at fan centres at the Al Janoub stadium – many covering their heads with their Moroccan flags and caps to protect themselves from the heat – they were left angered when the free tickets promised by the FA failed to materialise.
One supporter, Zineb Nfati, told the BBC she had travelled from Paris for the game, but had been unable to find a ticket.
“This is a very symbolic game – it’s Morocco against France and I’m half-French, half-Moroccan,” she said.
“The problem is there are no reliable sources. There is no reliable information,” Nfati said. “I came here with my brother and I don’t know what we’ll do… I’m heartbroken.”
The clash is the first time an African side have reached this stage of football’s biggest competition, though their French rivals are heavily tipped by pundits to advance to the final against Argentina.
Morocco coach Walid Regragui – who grew up in Paris – said his side was confident, and did not want to “wait another 40 years for an African team” to shine on the world stage.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz