World Cup: Moroccan Dreams Dashed But Fans Proud
Aptly meaning "the home," Al-Bayt stadium was the scene of a World Cup semifinal in which Morocco felt like the host country. Each French touch was greeted by deafening whistling, each Moroccan phase of possession prompting a swell of emotion. Jibouha ya lawled — loosely translating to "bring the cup to us, boys" — rang through the stadium. Morocco's signature call to urge on the players who have brought so much joy to their compatriots.
"I thought I would see the first three games and go home," says Fouad, who traveled from his adopted home of Boston. "We've all been suffering for two years with COVID and inflation. It made us forget all our problems, it made us feel that happiness we had lost."
Mirrored by their squad, which boasts 14 players born outside of Morocco, a diaspora of roughly 5 million lives across the globe. But even those with no Moroccan heritage have lent their support to the Atlas Lions, like Reema. "All Arabs are united," she tells DW. "I'm from Jordan and I traveled over from Dubai to cheer for Morocco. It has united all the countries in the Arab region."
Another foreign fan is Ali from Egypt, who says "because we are Muslim and Arab we must support each other. It doesn't matter that they didn't win. Thank you Morocco!"
It's a sentiment echoed by many and plain to see for those in Qatar. Time and again, partying Moroccan fans were joined in Doha's standing market Souq Waqif by Algerians, Egyptians, Saudis and Qataris, waving their own countries' flags after another unlikely win.
Abdel, who traveled alone from Morocco to watch this game said, "The Arab world has never been more united, the compassion and togetherness has never been seen in history. Everyone wanted us to win."
Morocco in disarray just months before Qatar 2022
The man largely responsible for all this exuberance is Walid Regragui. Appointed in August, the coach oversaw a quite astonishing turnaround of fortunes. Star players Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui had been ousted from the squad by former coach Vahid Halilhodzic in 2021 and then rejected call-ups in February 2022. It was only when Regragui took over months before the World Cup that the Chelsea and Bayern players rejoined the squad. He quickly formed a tight-knit and organized unit.
"The Moroccan people are proud and the whole world is proud because we played honest, hard-working football," Regragui said after the match against France. "The most important thing is to have given a good image, to have shown the world that Moroccan football exists and that we have beautiful supporters."
Regragui led Morocco to wins over Belgium, Spain, and PortugalImage: Tom Weller/dpa/picture alliance
From the moment their World Cup campaign kicked off, all the chaos of the previous years seemed forgotten. After a hard-earned 0-0 draw against Croatia, the Atlas Lions shocked Belgium before stamping their last-16 ticket against Canada. With the scalps of Spain and Portugal came injuries and fatigue and so France proved too big an obstacle.
In a twist of fate, Morocco were knocked out by the very team that inspired Regragui and the nation which so many Moroccans call home. Before the match, he revealed: "In 2018, France made me dream with the way they played. Deschamps understood how to do it."
Now, the 47-year-old conceded the squad had reached its limit. "At a World Cup this was perhaps one step too far, not tactically but physically. We had too many players at 60 or 70 percent."
The match for third place is not often one that captures the imagination and Morocco's coach is on a mission to spread the love.
"We're on our last legs. Of course we want to win the game," he said. "But I also want some of the players who haven't played very often to get minutes on the pitch. But we're going to try and make our country proud and win that third place."
Regragui has one more chance to rally fans from the Arab region when his side take on Croatia with a bronze medal up for grabs. Two sides who exceeded expectations face off, but only one of them inspired fans to unite across borders.
Edited by: James Thorogood
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