Morocco rose to the top of their African World Cup qualifying group on Wednesday with a 5-0 thrashing of Guinea-Bissau, many of whose players became ill after eating dinner on the eve of the match.
Achraf Hakimi and debutant Imran Louza in the first half and Ilias Chair, Ayoub El Kaabi and Munir El Haddadi netted for the Moroccans, who are chasing a sixth appearance at the global showpiece.
But the convincing Group I win for the Atlas Lions in the top-of-the-table clash was overshadowed by the Guinea-Bissau medical drama, which affected 25 players and technical staff.
Guinea-Bissau delegation head Carlos Teixeira had temporarily threatened to boycott the match, saying “I will not send the players to the field — it would be a criminal act on my part”.
Head coach Baciro Cande said players and coaches “developed stomach aches about 15 minutes after dinner, followed by diarrhoea and vomiting.
“Twenty-five were taken to hospital and released just before dawn on Wednesday. As a precaution, we then brought our own food to the hotel.”
The pre-match drama took some gloss off an impressive performance by Morocco under veteran coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
Morocco have six points, Guinea-Bissau four, Guinea two and Sudan one in a section badly disrupted by a lack of international-standard stadiums and security issues.
Guinea-Bissau and Sudan have been forced to stage home fixtures in Morocco due to sub-standard stadia and Guinea are currently barred from hosting qualifiers after a coup last month.
Morocco triumphed despite the absence of several stars, including Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri and Chelsea midfielder Hakim Ziyech.
Consistent scorer En-Nesyri is injured while Ziyech was dropped because of “unacceptable behaviour” during mid-year World Cup warm-up matches.
Halilhodzic told reporters that Ziyech had arrived late for friendlies against Ghana and Burkina Faso, displayed a bad attitude, and the medical staff said the midfielder had feigned injury.
Guinea, who had been expected to pose the greatest threat to Morocco, could only draw 1-1 with Sudan in Marrakech.
Mohamed Bayo, who scored for Clermont in the French Ligue 1 at the weekend, took his scoring habit to north Africa by nodding Guinea in front off a second-half corner.
Saifeldin Bakhit equalised 18 minutes from time with a close-range shot to earn Sudan a first point in the group.