African qualifier to go ahead in Marrakech despite deadly quake

football09 September 2023 14:56| © Reuters
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Tom Saintfiet talks to his players © Gallo Images

Gambia andCongo's African Cup of Nations qualifier in Marrakech will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday despite the powerful earthquake that struck the city on Friday night and which has so far killed more than 1 000 people and injured hundreds more.

However, Saturday's match between Morocco and Liberia in Agadir, some 260-km away from the quake epicentre, has been postponed.

The Gambia and Congo squads spent the night sleeping beside their hotel pools after the magnitude 6.8 quake struck in the High Atlas mountains and damaged buildings in nearby Marrakech. It was the country's deadliest tremor in more than six decades.

Both coaches said their players were traumatised by the event but had been told they must go ahead with their match.

Sunday’s clash, which decides who qualifies along with Group G winners Mali, is being played in Marrakech because Gambia do not have a suitable stadium to host internationals.

“We have been told our match on Sunday must go ahead. It’s quite strange that the Morocco game is off but ours is not,” Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet told Reuters.

CAF have since confirmed the decision without comment.

“We have been outside for some 13-14 hours now,” added Saintfiet.

“The hotel is damaged but we can hopefully get new rooms on the ground. But we think it is best this game is postponed because the mood among the players is understandably sombre and everyone is a little scared.”

Congo coach Paul Put said his players were unharmed.

“We are OK but still in shock. Mentally it’s difficult to keep up the concentration. We had to sleep outside, near the swimming pool. It was very scary and even now a complicated situation for the players,” he told Reuters.

Morocco have already reached the finals along with South Africa from Group K and the match with Liberia is their last qualifier, with the outcome of academic interest.

“Following the earthquake which affected certain regions of Morocco, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation announces the postponement of the match ... (to) a later date, in agreement with the Confederation of African Football," officials said in a statement.

"... the national football family presents its most sincere condolences to the families of the victims, and wishes a speedy recovery to all those injured.”