Morocco fans seek to breach security cordon at Spain match

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Preview, Doha, Qatar - November 18, 2022 The FIFA World Cup logo on the Corniche Promenade is pictured ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

DOHA (Reuters) -Morocco fans desperate to attend their country's World Cup match against Spain sought to breach a security cordon near the stadium on Wednesday, prompting riot police to push them back and seal off the route, a Reuters journalist said.

Many Moroccan fans had been seeking scarce tickets for the knockout game against 2010 champions Spain, hoping to see their team advance to its first quarter-final. The last Arab and African side left in World Cup, Morocco has been willed on by some of the most impassioned fans at the tournament.

But Morocco's matches have also been testing for organisers. There was pushing and shoving outside the stadium as ticketless fans gathered ahead of its Dec. 1 defeat of Canada, with some trying to climb the fence.

Ahead of Tuesday's kickoff, security appeared tighter than at other games, with rows of riot police deployed on the ground and on horseback as fans walked towards the stadium.

Marshals at the stadium perimeter shouted "show your tickets please" at approaching fans and guards checked for tickets before letting them through.

A crowd of Moroccan fans without tickets waited beyond the security cordon. "We hope to get in," said one man, who declined to give his name.

Some tried to push their way through the edge of the cordon, squeezing between police and a fence.

There was screaming and pushing as more fans gathered and police on horseback advanced towards fans trying to get in.

“Brothers, you are wasting your time. There is no entrance here” a marshal screamed into a bullhorn as more and more fans gathered.

Reuters contacted the committee responsible for World Cup security at the Qatari ministry of interior for comment but there was no immediate response.

As the match kicked off, many fans outside the stadium began watching on their mobile phones as a crowd of many hundreds of people milled about, many still asking for tickets.

While Morocco, in the last 16 for the first time since 1986, is the underdog, the support of its vociferous, red-clan fans has been seen as a big asset in the first World Cup hosted by an Arab state.

The match may gain piquancy from the familiarity of the opponents. The Spanish mainland is visible from Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar and thousands of Moroccans live there for work.

As a colonial power, Spain controlled swathes of northern Morocco as well as the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which Rabat sees as its own, and still retains two small North African enclaves at Ceuta and Melilla that Rabat says it should quit.

Diplomatic ties improved this year after Morocco had withdrawn its ambassador to Spain in 2021 in a dispute over Madrid's handling of medical treatment for a Western Sahara separatist leader.

The Moroccan consulate in Spain has asked fans to "show sportsmanship regardless of the result" and to avoid doing anything that could trigger incidents with Spanish fans.

(Additional reporting by Bushra Shakhshir and Imad Creidi, Charlotte Bruneau, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat and Angus McDowall in Tunis; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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