Morocco fans celebrate World Cup win over Spain around the globe: ‘This is history’

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The first thing to know about Moroccan fans in Qatar is that they’re everywhere.

Even before their country beat Spain in the World Cup last 16 on Tuesday, their distinctive dark red shirts were among the most numerous in Doha. They packed the Metros, buses and landmarks, particularly the Souq Waqif.

With Morocco having been drawn against Belgium, Croatia and Canada in the group stage, many assumed those fans wouldn’t be around for long. Then the team won its group.

On Tuesday, Morocco supporters packed the Education City Stadium, unleashing whistles during Spain’s many spells of possession, and serving up the best atmosphere in Qatar other than the Argentinians. When Achraf Hakimi scored his Panenka penalty, those fans made clear that their presence would be felt in Doha for some time.

“One day, my son will be 14 years old and he’ll ask me about this day and I will tell him, ‘Son, I was there’,” said a Moroccan fan named Ayoub. He had just flown to Doha from Casablanca that morning and was unperturbed about missing his flight back that night in favour of celebrating with his fellow supporters.

“This is history,” he said.

Outside the stadium, ticketless fans gathered in large and small groups, holding up their smartphones for others to see, placing them on tripods, and propping them up on trash cans. The game was on every one of those tiny screens, and every eye was glued to them.

There was some trouble between fans and police in the middle of all that, and given the events surrounding the Euro 2020 final and 2022 Champions League final, questions will be asked about security issues, particularly large swathes of ticketless fans gathering directly outside the stadium.

 

But by and large, on this night, the Moroccan fans simply loved every moment.

Those outside the stadium heard the roars that accompanied shots, saves and key tackles before their lagging broadcasts showed them what had happened; they cursed when the stream hiccupped in the middle of yet another Spanish spell of possession, or even worse in the middle of yet another Moroccan counter-attack.

Five minutes walk away from that scattered collection of phone-watching nervous wrecks in Moroccan jerseys and flags, a crowd of at least a thousand more gathered around a giant screen that, unlike most other such setups in Qatar this month, was devoid of any FIFA branding or commercialisation.

Screen Doha


Fans watching on the outdoor screen outside the stadium (Photo: Alex Abnos)

Most fans sat on the ground, except when there was a scoring chance and they couldn’t help but stand in anticipation. In the 114th minute, when Walid Cheddira failed to get a shot away on a wide-open breakaway, nervous encouragements gave way to groans. That, surely, would be Morocco’s last chance.

Then Yassine Bounou saved those Spanish penalties and Hakimi buried his cool Panenka, prompting one Moroccan security guard in the stadium, previously holding it together, to allow himself a moment of emotion.

Soon, the group watching on the giant screen outside, the groups watching on their phones, and the lucky tens of thousands in the stadium melded into one loud, extremely joyous party in Education City, heading to Souq Waqif with no desire to stop celebrating.

“It’s a dream, my brother, it feels like a dream,” said Mohammed, a Moroccan fan who joined the crowd after coming out of the stadium. “I still can’t believe it, and I’m scared to wake up tomorrow. It will be a long night, and nobody in Qatar is going to sleep. We’re going to party all night.”

Moroccan football has been waiting a long time for a moment like this. They won the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations and their best performance at a World Cup to this point was making the last 16 in 1986. They are the first Arab and fourth African country to make the World Cup quarter-finals.

“I’m proud to be Moroccan, proud to be African, proud to be Arab. It’s for them,” said Omar Chraibi, a Moroccan journalist who attended the match. “For all African people, for all Arab people, this victory is for them.”

Indeed, Morocco’s victory seemed to resonate far beyond national borders. Walking away from the stadium and later around Souq Waqif, one could see Palestinian flags, Senegalese flags, Saudi Arabian flags and others being waved alongside the distinctive Moroccan flag with its single green star.

“All the African community is behind us, and all the Arabic world is behind us,” said Hamza, a Morocco fan from Fez who watched the game. “We have Qataris here supporting us, Saudi Arabia supporting us, Kuwait supporting us, Palestinians supporting us. We have Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, all of them are here supporting us, and we hope to make them proud.”

For many fans, the Morocco team’s celebration with the Palestinian flag was important. Supporters followed suit, waving Palestine’s colours alongside Morocco’s in just about every celebration we witnessed or saw via social media.

“I am Palestinian so this flag means power and freedom to my people,” said Tariq, a 25-year-old who watched the game in London. “The Moroccans are our Arab brothers. You see them still representing us. That’s why I came out here to support because I feel like Morocco is my country, man.”

The celebrations went worldwide: in Abu Dhabi, Madrid, Paris, the Hague and London they waved flags out of cars, lit flares in public squares, and generally displayed all the acute signs of party fever.

Morocco celebrations


Morocco fans celebrate in the Hague (Photo: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

In Edgware Road, London, where there is a sizeable Moroccan community, Hakimi’s Panenka caused delirium.

“This win means everything,” said Salam, a fan in London. “In Morocco, the most important thing is football. We eat football, we sleep football. Everything is about football. So this is history and we are not done yet. Trust me, you’ll see.”

Fans young and old came out in their numbers and onto the streets they went, singing and waving their national flags and, to Roy Keane’s dismay, dancing without a care in the world.

“I came all the way from Enfield, north London,” said a fan named Samaya, who was alongside her daughter Nadia. “I literally grabbed my daughter after the game and said, ‘Come, we are not missing this’.”

Jubilantly parading through Paddington, Oxford Street and finally into Piccadilly Circus, it was truly a joyous scene befitting their country’s achievement.

“There is a lot of politics and history between us and Spain,” said Hamza, a 25-year-old fan in London. “We are neighbours with a deep history of colonisation but this just shows that the underdog can do it!”

And as for the next round and a possible meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo in the quarter-final? Moroccans in London are excited by the challenge.

“Ronaldo, we are ready for you in the next round,” said Ali, a 16-year-old fan. “Hakimi or Mazraoui? You’re getting locked off either way.”

Almost every fan we spoke to heaped plaudits upon Bounou for his saves and Hakimi for his winning penalty and all-around excellent play since returning to the national team. But some reserved special praise for head coach Walid Regragui, who only took over in August, one international window before traveling to Qatar.

“He’s trusted the team, and he’s now made something that no other coach made,” said a Moroccan fan named Rania in Doha, before being interrupted by a boombox blaring Arabic party tunes. “Morocco used to always bring foreign coaches. This is a Moroccan coach, he loves Morocco, so he has a bit more ego. He trusted Moroccans, and he made us happy.”

Outside the stadium, the buoyant crowd flew flags, blew horns, danced and chanted on their way to the Metro, mimicking attendants’ calls of “Metro, this way!” with “Airport, that way!”, aimed at the occasional pocket of Spanish fans. Their chants echoed through the marble train platforms. Their bouncing up and down shook the trains.

“We’re just having a walk, and every time we see a celebration we stop, we dance, we vibe, and we continue,” said Rania, who said she knew many Moroccans who had taken out loans to travel to Qatar for the tournament. “I feel very speechless. This is the best gift Morocco can ever give us.”

Other contributors: Luke Bosher and Nnamdi Onyeagwara.


Where to go next on The Athletic


(Top photo: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)



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