Brit expats Ray Pollard and wife Mari Olli say a blonde girl asked a man “can we see mummy now?” at a garage in Marrakesh six days after Maddie went missing.
But the duo, who live in Spain, were on holiday in North Africa and had not seen any news of her disappearance from Praia da Luz, Portugal.
When they saw the news that night they recognised Maddie, but said police in Portugal and Spain “didn’t want to know”.
Ray said in the new Netflix documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann: “If we’d have known a little girl was missing, then we could have probably done something about it.
“We didn’t know the thing in her eye. By looking at her, you could have said, yes it’s her, or no it’s not her.
“A little blonde girl in that petrol station in Marrakesh, was not a very normal thing to see”
“But we didn’t know and that is the most upsetting part about it, that we had a very close encounter but we didn’t know.”
Mari said: “She had this pretty face and long blonde hair to the shoulders, green eyes.
“She had a sad look in her face. She said with an accent, ‘Can we see mummy now?'”
Mari added: “A little blonde girl in that petrol station in Marrakesh, was not a very normal thing to see.
“It was so strange what I saw. And when I saw the picture, it just hit me.”
Mari also said at the time she was “99.9% certain” it was her.
She told The Sun: “She was standing alone with a man. She looked sad and a little lost.
“She looked so alone, I wanted to carry her or something.”
The couple were staying at the Ibis Palmeraie hotel, where they stayed before catching a ferry from Tangiers to Tarifa.
According to reports, some experts say the reverse route is a plausible human trafficking route.
The sighting was also reported to Scotland Yard, before being passed on to officers in Leicestershire.
In a separate sighting, a woman carrying a blonde girl in Morocco’s Atlas mountains led to a huge search.
Brian Kennedy, a rich supporter of the McCanns, flew there but confirmed it was not the child.