RABAT — Moroccans scrambled on Friday to get seats on the seven additional flights that state carrier Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has announced to help soccer fans get to Qatar for the World Cup quarter final against Portugal.
Morocco, the last African country left in the tournament and the first Arab country to ever reach the quarter finals, has been gripped by excitement at the team’s World Cup performance, with victories over highly ranked Spain and Belgium.
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A source at Morocco’s soccer federation said it had agreed with RAM that fans seeking tickets on the additional flights should have tickets for the Saturday match and a Hayya card – Qatar’s temporary entry visa for World Cup visitors.
However, several fans at a RAM office in Rabat said they were able to get air tickets with only the Hayya card and hoped to buy match tickets on arrival in Doha.
Ousama Ouaddich, waiting outside the Rabat RAM office in the rain on Thursday night, said he had managed to buy a ticket for the match but did not yet have a flight.
“It’s frustrating. We need more airplanes,” he said.
At home, the main fan zones with big screens are at a Casablanca stadium and in Marrakech, where a screen has been put up in the Jmaa al-Fnaa square, a UNESCO world heritage site.
During the match against Spain, the Jmaa al-Fnaa was hung with flags and throbbed to the chants of 30,000 fans, said Abdelmakel El Mansouri a member of the city council.
“We are expecting a similar or higher number of fans during the game against Portugal,” he said.
Fans attending the Casablanca stadium zone need to get there three hours early for a place, one of the organizers said.
Across the country, shops and stalls are doing a roaring trade in flags, national team shirts and T-shirts.
“Looking at how many T-shirts I have sold, I wish the World Cup lasted forever,” said Zouhir Sabir, a shop keeper in the old center of Rabat. The price of clothes with national symbols had risen about 30% due to high demand, he said.
“Now you see people dressed normally. On the day of the match most people will be wearing colors of the national flag and football jerseys,” he said.
Even people with little interest in the sport joined the street celebrations that have followed Morocco’s progress through the tournament.
“I’m not usually a football fan and I know we have lots of economic problems in the country. But I think this is a special moment to celebrate,” said Abdellah Belhaj, a retired man in Rabat. (Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, writing by Angus McDowall, editing by Robert Birsel)