Failure was not an option.
The national enthusiasm of a victory for the national team against a world champion like La Roja inflamed Morocco from the hours before the game.
When the last penalty scored by the Atlas Lions sealed the match, the spirits erupted with jubilation among the Moroccan fans, mostly fans of La Liga teams.
In the North African country there are 29 Spanish soccer clubs: 13 from Barcelona, three from Real Madrid, two from Atlético and one from Sevilla.
They danced in the streets, at the doors of the cafes, in the caravans of cars to celebrate the first pass to the quarterfinals in a World Cup in the history of the red and green team.
"The Atlas Lions will face Switzerland in the quarterfinals," predicted the newsstand Ahmed Ghilali, 61 and a Barça fan, with the sports press deployed at the counter.
"Spain and Portugal will be left out," he predicted, in a symbiosis of expert opinion and close neighbor indifference, the fall of the award-winning Iberian teams.
The streets of the capital had been deserted since early afternoon, amid the widespread closure of educational centers.
The cafes concentrated those who had not yet been able to return home or preferred to be in crowded company.
“It has been a
,” Khalid, a 32-year-old textile businessman, pontificated before the screens of the Sotto Sopra bar-restaurant, a regular point of concentration for fans in the center of the capital.
Sayed, an engineer of the same age, gave a technical explanation after the end of the game: “Morocco has left the ball to Spain, but has not allowed them to play their style.
The rest has been luck... And having a great goalkeeper like (the Sevilla player) Bono”.
It was past noon and the Ahmed newsstand was soon going to close his establishment while the troops and officers of the General Staff of the Royal Armed Forces paraded briskly down Patrice Lumumba avenue in the Hassan district of Rabat.
They were heading home to follow the meeting at a large family reunion, as is de rigueur in Morocco.
Spanish civil servant Elena, 51, and her husband, commercial director Hasan, 54, watched the match with their large Moroccan family.
She supported the colors of La Roja, while the rest cheered on the Atlas Lions.
Except for her youngest son, Elías, 12 years old, who had his heart divided between the two rivals.
In the morning he had gone to school dressed in the shirt of Achraf Hakimi, an idol of the Moroccan team born in Madrid and a player for Paris Saint-Germain.
“He says that he goes with both teams,” revealed his mother, “but the procession goes inside.
In the end he has lost his voice from shouting so much with both teams ”.
Carmen and Mohamed, two 59-year-old liberal professionals, also watched the meeting in Rabat with a large Moroccan family clan.
"We have the two flags next to the television," said this childless couple in unison.
“The Moroccan community in Spain and the Spanish community in Morocco have experienced it like a derby, as if it were a final”, considered Mohamed, “but if La Roja had played against another country, I am sure that the Moroccans would have supported them in a gesture of good neighborliness," he ventured.
The Spanish Elena described with good humor the intertwined feelings that were lived during the meeting in a Spanish-Moroccan mixed family: "I myself have gone to death with Spain, but I like the Moroccan players very much, and also their coach (Walid Regragui , a former soccer player born in France)”.
She believes that the one described as the Moroccan Pep Guardiola is the soul of the team.
"He has called up the best and has convinced them that they can go a long way in just three months in charge of the team," Elena sums up the majority opinion in the North African country, "and he has managed to build a bridge between the players in the league local and those who are abroad.
Among the 26 that he has summoned in Qatar, 14 have been born or lived in nations such as France, Spain or the Netherlands.
A meeting faced with confidence
After more than two decades residing in the North African country, this Spaniard has been able to observe the great confidence with which the quarterfinal match against Spain was faced in Morocco, but she had also detected a deep fear of clashing with a champion team seasoned in the tension of major international competitions.
Moroccans knew in advance that they had to learn to manage their emotions.
"I hope that one wins with honor and another loses with sportsmanship," Elena had expressed her best wishes before the start of the game.
Her omens seemed to come true.
The one considered by the Moroccan press as the best generation of soccer players in the country made history last Thursday by signing the second pass to the round of 16 in 36 years in a soccer World Cup.
After defeating Canada, the Atlas Lions fulfilled an old dream, this time as unbeaten group leaders, ahead of teams with the pedigree of Croatia and Belgium.
Morocco also played at home in Qatar, backed by 40,000 supporters of their country, and as the only Arab country to have continued to compete in the second round.
"Pride and fervor" defined the feeling experienced in his country in this World Cup by Tahar Ben Jelloun, one of the most renowned contemporary Moroccan writers, on the digital portal 360 Sports.
"The victory against Belgium (0-2) will go down in the annals," predicted the Tangier-based novelist.
"A team determined to win sealed the success, with intense emotion throughout the country", he recapitulated before noting that in the cafes there were "numerous women -some of them veiled, others with their hair blowing in the wind-, with the same dream : see Morocco win”.
The victory over Spain is now also part of the sporting history of the closest North African country.
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