“A taste of victory against France would really make a lot of angry Moroccans happy,” Ali Hamioui, a 30-year-old engineer, said before the match. “They’ve been denying us visas left and right and treating us as second class. This would be a nice revenge.”
Morocco’s showdown with France carries complex political baggage
After the loss, Moroccan fan Yousra Marrou lamented the outcome — and the opponent — in the capital of Rabat, where he joined crowds who gathered to grieve together.
“I wished [the match] were against anyone else,” he said.
“It’s a huge blow,” said Ahmed Ofir, 23, who was also looking for consolation on the streets of Rabat. “For a team who isn’t used to winning and is suddenly exposed to victory, we did not want to stop.”
His friend, Oussam Semlali, said even though Morocco didn’t advance to the final, the country was still celebrating how far they came.
“The ball simply didn’t want to score. Our team tried hard,” he said. “We were extraordinarily represented. The team did not let go.”
Morocco’s loss Wednesday brought an end to a remarkable World Cup run that energized and united much of Africa and the Middle East, where fans largely came together to support the underdog team that managed to knock off two of its other former colonizers, Spain and Portugal, en route to the semifinals.
As other Arab and African countries were eliminated in earlier stages, the region’s fan base redirected its attention toward Morocco — celebrating the country’s Arab, African and Amazigh heritage. The move by Moroccan players to raise the Palestinian flag also drew accolades across the Arab world. Scenes of players celebrating with their families, including some with their mothers who attended the matches in Qatar, tugged at heartstrings and made the team a sentimental favorite.
For Morocco, a World Cup run that transcends the sport
In Morocco, the run brought people together in a country that needed something to celebrate.
The last time Hamioui remembers the country feeling so united was last February, when the plight of a 5-year-old boy who fell down a dry well captured the nation’s attention. For days, efforts to rescue him were live-streamed internationally. When he didn’t make it out alive, a nation’s hope turned to devastation.
“This time we are happy,” Hamioui said. “We deserve to be united in happiness. Moroccans are hungry for happiness.”
He said the team’s World Cup run has provided some of the best days of his life and that the mood in the country was “unlike anything” he has ever experienced. He desperately wanted to be in Qatar for the semifinal game Wednesday, but couldn’t miss work. “I would have spent all my money to go,” he said ruefully.
The match was also followed closely by members of the Moroccan diaspora, numbering some 5 million, many of whom live in France and other parts of Western Europe.
Along the Champs-Élysées, the 1.2-mile-long avenue in the heart of Paris, convoys of honking cars blocked the streets late Wednesday night.
As France supporters headed to the Arc de Triomphe, some wore rooster hats, the French team’s emblem.
Thousands of police officers were deployed to the area in expectation of potential clashes between France and Morocco supporters, and riot police officers were on patrol. But by 11 p.m. local time, most fans, whatever their allegiance, appeared to be in a celebratory mood.
Back in downtown Rabat, Oumaima Moutik, 24, said before the match that the last time he felt so good was after he recovered from covid-19 and emerged from isolation. At that time, “I looked at the streets from a new perspective,” he said. “I am now doing the same. Everything feels so fresh and renewed.”
Ali Cheradi, a high school English teacher in Rabat, said he was reliving the country’s 1986 World Cup run — which took place when he was a child — with his own children.
Then, he, his father and his siblings crowded around an old radio. Now, he said, he is “imparting to [my children] the same love for football and the nation that I had experienced as a child their age.”
“The happiness is really indescribable,” he said. “I’ve taken pictures, hugged, danced and sang with random strangers.”
He planned to watch Wednesday’s game at home with his family. No matter the outcome, he said, they would flood the streets to honor their team’s run.
“Win or lose,” he said, “today will be a celebration.”
Rick Noack in Paris contributed to this report.
World Cup in Qatar
The latest: France will face Argentina in the World Cup final after eliminating Morocco, 2-0, in a semifinal Wednesday in Khor, Qatar. Les Bleus will face Lionel Messi and Argentina on Sunday at 10 a.m. Eastern for the world championship. Morocco will play Croatia in the third-place game Saturday.
The World Cup’s darling: Morocco has had a stunning World Cup run, beating several European powerhouses: Belgium, Spain and now Portugal. Its success has stirred pride and rare unity across the Arab world, evoking, for some, an earlier era of Pan-Arab nationalism.
Today’s WorldView: Off the field, the World Cup has been the site of a rancorous contest between a moralizing West and increasingly indignant Qatari hosts and their Arab brethren.
Well+Being: They’ve trained their whole careers to perform at the World Cup — building endurance, strength and agility, and developing the mental toughness to handle the pressures of the game. It’s not easy being an elite soccer referee.
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