Multiple skirmishes broke out between riot police and Moroccan fans amid chaotic scenes ahead of their side’s penalty shootout victory over Spain.
Security forces, who also deployed officers on horseback and dogs, got at least three people into the most serious trouble of the World Cup. A policeman fell from his horse in the disturbances.
Organizers later blamed the problems on hundreds of ticketless fans, who they said had tried to force their way into Al Rayyan’s Education City stadium. However, others who were caught up in the fray insisted they had legitimate tickets – and feared they had been seriously injured.
In a clip on social media, a woman wearing Spanish colors but speaking with an English accent warned police there was a baby in the crowd. “They are going to be trampled, there are too many people,” she said.
Other footage showed police in riot gear pushing and shoving fans – smashing them against a fence – as well as fights breaking out.
Morocco will face Portugal or Switzerland in the quarter-finals – and could face England in the semi-finals next week if both teams qualify.
Sources close to the organizers told the Guardian they had deployed additional security measures – which included loose ticket checks and a much larger police presence – because they expected Moroccan fans without tickets try to enter.
Long before kick-off, several checkpoints were set up outside the metro station, with fans being asked to show their tickets at each step. However, with 20 minutes remaining, police blocked off the main entrance, fearing fans without tickets were trying to break in.
Some people showed their phones and what appeared to be their passports, but were turned away. It was unclear how many people outside the stadium had tickets and how many did not.
The atmosphere outside the stadium finally died down with groups of fans watching the game on mobile phones after walking away from the perimeter gate. Despite a large number of empty seats before kick-off, it was later advertised as a sold-out sale with a total capacity of 44,667.
It’s not the first time that there have been problems involving Moroccan fans at this World Cup. There was also some pushing ahead of the team’s final group game against Canada, with some fans also trying to scale a fence.
A statement from the Qatari organizers said: “A number of ticketless fans gathered outside the Education City stadium ahead of the Morocco-Spain game in an attempt to gain access to the stadium.
“‘Soft’ ticket controls had been set up some distance from the stadium perimeter to prevent groups from crowding stadium access points. Despite this, a small group of supporters were able to approach the stadium fence and were quickly dispersed by tournament security forces on the pitch, with no injuries or other issues reported.
“Fans were redirected to the local free fan zone where the game was being broadcast. Ensuring the safety and security of every fan is of paramount importance and all decisions made are geared towards this goal.