Morocco will not defend their African Nations Championship (Chan) title after withdrawing from the 2023 tournament that starts on Friday.
Morocco had in December threatened to pull out of the biennial tournament unless they were allowed to fly in directly from their capital, Rabat, aboard the country’s national airline, Royal Air Maroc (RAM), a demand they sent to Caf but which Algeria flatly rejected.
Hosts Algeria refused Morocco’s demands for a direct flight from Rabat to Constantine, where their group matches were to be held, due to the icy diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The two countries cut diplomatic ties in August 2021 after which they closed the airspace with all direct flights between them suspended.
Algeria take on Libya in the tournament’s opening game on Friday while Morocco were set to begin the defence of their title against Sudan on Sunday but the Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) said that will now not be possible.
“(We) were informed on December 22 by Caf that an authorisation in principle had been obtained,” read part of FMRF’s statement. “The obtaining of the final authorisation has unfortunately not been confirmed by Caf.”
“The FRMF has communicated the details of the flight plan and coordinates in order to obtain final authorisation for the RAM flight from Rabat and continued the preparation of the trip and the participation in Chan.”
Morocco, who defeated Mali in the delayed tournament in Cameroon in 2021 to become the first nation to win consecutive Chan titles, was to be represented by their U23 side in the competition reserved for players who participate in Africa’s domestic leagues.
The Atlas Lions had been pooled in Group C alongside Ghana, Madagascar and Sudan and their withdrawal complicates matters for Caf who will have to do without one of the star teams at the tournament.
Morocco had played two friendly matches against Ethiopia early this week in readiness for the tournament which they had hoped to attend.
The North Africans are likely to face sanctions from Caf following their late withdrawal.