Morocco have officially withdrawn from the 2022 African Nations Championship after they failed to make it to Algeria in time for the latest edition of the tournament.
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The Atlas Lions confirmed they will not be defending their championship crown this year after their request to have a direct flight from Rabat to Constantine, the city where all their group games were scheduled to take place, via Royal Air Maroc was denied by the Algerian government.
Morocco and Algeria severed diplomatic relations in August 2021 after tensions between the two nations became strained, subsequently leading to both countries closing their air spaces for direct flights between them.
It was hoped there could be a last-minute resolution between the parties as the back-to-back reigning champions arrived at Morocco's Rabat Airport in the hopes of defending their title, but this was to no avail as the U23 Moroccan national team failed to make their way to the biannual competition.
"What we are experiencing today, (with) the Moroccan national team present in the waiting room of the airport, is a pity," Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) president Faouzi Lekjaa said outside the airport.
"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."
An official statement from the FMRF read: "The national team was unable to travel to the city of Constantine in order to participate in the seventh edition of the African Championship for Local Players, which will take place in Algeria from January 13 to February 4, 2023, to defend its title, which it won in the last two sessions, due to the lack of permission for its flight from the airport.
"Rabat-Sale in the direction of Constantine Airport by Royal Air Maroc, the official carrier of the national teams.
"During the meeting held on December 27, 2022, the Directorate Office of the Royal Moroccan Football University stressed the need for the national team to travel to Algeria on board Royal Moroccan Airlines.
"While the national team was preparing to go to the city of Constantine on January 10, 2023 to participate in this continental championship that will start on January 13, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, unfortunately, did not reach the final authorisation within the limits of editing this communication by the Confederation of African Football to go to Algeria via lines Moroccan monarch."
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Morocco played two friendlies against Ethiopia in preparation for the tournament as they harboured aspirations of attending the African showpiece, but the north Africans will now likely face punishment from CAF for their late withdrawal.
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