DOHA, Qatar -- On board the seven planes that made their way to the World Cup from Morocco in a 24-hour span, each passenger received a backpack splashed with that country's national colors and stuffed with a T-shirt and a flag.
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Each plane was brimming with Moroccan fans flying to Qatar for the sole purpose of witnessing what would be a historic quarterfinal upset of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. With Morocco headed to the semifinals as the first African nation to advance that far in a World Cup, Doha could continue to serve as a de facto Moroccan capital.
The flights are a result of an agreement between Morocco's soccer federation, its government and a regional airline. Between those flying to support the team and those already living in Qatar, the host country was expected to accommodate approximately 15,000 Moroccans within its boundaries during the World Cup.
"We came for today's match and return tomorrow, after we defeat Cristiano Ronaldo," said Omar, one of the Moroccan fans booked on the seven flights to Doha, whose words proved prophetic with Morocco's 1-0 upset at Al Thumama Stadium.
The agreement between Morocco's Ministry of National Education, Preschool and Sports, and the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, made possible seven round-trip flights at a price of about $470 per passenger, according to the participating airline. They were all sold out as of Saturday morning.
The flights had a capacity of between 274 and 340 passengers. and they began arriving in Doha on Friday afternoon and up until five hours before kickoff. All in all, about 2,500 Morocco fans landed in Qatar in that span. Passengers were scheduled to return Sunday.
"What we need now are tickets," said Hamid, one of the fans who arrived in the morning.
Finding tickets has been a problem since Morocco's penalty shootout upset of Spain in the round of 16. In that instance, Morocco's embassy in Qatar announced it had made available 5,000 tickets for its citizens. The same offer was not made before Morocco's upset of Portugal.
Ahead of the semifinal clash against France on Dec. 14, an agreement between the Moroccan football federation, the government and a local airline will allow 30 planes full of Moroccan fans to arrive in Doha between Tuesday and Wednesday. The new agreement maintains the rate of $470 for the round trip (same as for the Portugal clash).
The 30 planes with an average of 310 passengers will transport almost 10,000 people from Morocco to Doha, nearly doubling the approximately 13,000 Moroccans already living in Doha. The airline also opened the possibility for Moroccan fans who are already in the Qatar to change the date of their return.