Morocco's hopes of defending their African Nations Championship (CHAN) could be dashed after a long wait at Rabat Airport ended without their plane taking off.
The 2021 winners had withdrawn from the tournament on Thursday after the Algerian government apparently rejected its request for the team to fly there directly on Morocco's national airline. But organisers remained hopeful.
President of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), Faouzi Lekjaa, said on Friday: "What we are experiencing today is that the Moroccan national team, which is present right now in the waiting room of the airport, is a pity.
"Young people have worked for years and prepared for this championship for months, and prepared on all sides to participate in the championship and to defend the title as well."
Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021, in a dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco in 1975. The row meant all direct flights between the two countries were suspended.
But the CHAN champions still planned to play in the football tournament.
On Friday morning in Rabat, players, football association delegation, journalists, representatives were all ready to board the flight from Rabat-Sale airport with the hope that Algeria would finally authorise the journey. However, the approval never came from Algiers.
Confederation of African Football president, Patrice Motsepe, said: "I can tell you that there was a huge amount of pride about the performances of Morocco in all of the 54 countries in Africa.
"So, we keep on. We have to apply our mind as we can't have this situation, we can't have this situation where we have these problems."
The CHAN kicked off on Friday with hosts Algeria beating Libya one nil.
The Atlas Lions were scheduled to play their opening match on Sunday against Sudan and it remains unclear how their withdrawal will affect the format of the competition and whether Morocco will face any sort of punishment for pulling out.
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