On Saturday, when the referee whistled the end of the Portugal-Morocco game, it seemed that it was not a country, but the entire Arab world and the African continent, which had just qualified for the semifinals of the World Cup in Qatar.
From Gaza to the Ivory Coast, passing through Iraq, Tunisia, Senegal or Egypt, celebrations took place in the streets, with Moroccan flags, songs and distribution of sweets.
In the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where an illuminated sign at an intersection displayed the Moroccan flag with the phrase “Yes we can”, drivers honked their horns relentlessly as the Atlas Lions became the first combined Arab and African in history to get so far in the competition, even more so leaving two selections on the road
Favorites: Spain ―with the symbolic addition that it exercised a protectorate over part of Morocco between 1912 and 1956, the year of independence― and Portugal.
Only women and children attended the performances on the occasion of Christmas in a square in Beit Sahur, a Christian town near Bethlehem, when Morocco disputed the quarters.
Meanwhile, the men lived the game in the cafeterias as if the Palestinian team itself was playing, absent from Qatar.
In Israel's Yaffa, a historic town with an Arab majority that is now part of Tel Aviv, cars passed with flags from a country that is 4,000 kilometers away from it.
Already the victory against Spain was celebrated by thousands of people in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus dancing and chanting the name of Morocco.
It matters little these days that Rabat became, exactly two years ago, one of the few Arab countries to recognize the State of Israel, an unpopular decision.
Or the rivalry that it maintains with neighboring Algiers, or those of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with the host Qatar.
These days, the common identity weighs more - which refers to the times of pan-Arabism -, the past shared under European colonization and, in general, the feeling that one of the soccer pariahs on the planet is making history before the great powers.
Wednesday is, to make matters worse, the turn of the old metropolis, France.
The Moroccan team itself supports this narrative.
“The good vibrations and the energy that Arabs and Africans send us come to us.
Everyone is with us now ”, his coach, Walid Regragui, congratulated himself, after having defeated Belgium, Spain and Portugal, three of the
a priori .
"Why shouldn't we dream?
If you don't dream, you will never achieve anything, ”he reflected aloud.
The chained triumphs of the Lions of the Atlas seem to come from the same stuff that dreams are made of, according to Regragui himself: "If you put your heart, determination and humility you can forge your own fortune."
Born and educated in France, the coach has managed to design a formation in which 14 of his 26 players have also been born abroad, in the Moroccan diaspora.
The message of preferring the national shirt of parents and grandparents, instead of that of the countries of birth or roots, has also permeated Africa and the Arab world ―well-intentioned soccer fans―, to whom Morocco has offered for the first time the proud to rub shoulders with the best in the semifinals.
The celebrations in Morocco have never ended.
The afternoons and nights of popular jubilation that have already taken place in the streets "will go down in history", as the writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, the contemporary Moroccan novelist with the greatest international projection, has pointed out.
Not only the groups of youngest fans have celebrated it, authentic barras bravas that turn the Rabat and Casablanca stadiums into maximum pressure cookers.
Entire families have also taken to the streets, grandmothers with their grandchildren and numerous girls who claimed the right to express overflowing joy on their own.
But also in the rest of the Maghreb they have followed the unstoppable progression of Morocco in Qatar on television.
As in Tunisia, which was knocked out in the first round despite having defeated the French team, and even in Algeria, excluded from the World Cup and main rival -not only football- in the region.
In their challenge to
, the Atlas Lions hope to have the support of the North African fans, with whom they share the memory of French colonial domination.
Youths wave the Moroccan and Palestinian flags during Morocco's match against Portugal in Gaza on Saturday.
Fatima Shbair (AP)
The Government of Algiers, which broke diplomatic relations with Rabat last year, among other reasons due to its traditional position in the Western Sahara conflict and its alliance with Israel, has kept official silence regarding the successes of the neighboring country.
State television has discreetly reported on the Moroccan victories, but the main Algerian sports website –
followed by more than a million fans – was much more eloquent after the move to the semifinals: “Heroic.
Mabruk (congratulations, in Arabic)”.
Morocco has won the hearts of Arabs and Africans on the pitch.
It was the football team of a single nation, sometimes at odds with neighbors and allies over geopolitics, but now it is also the favorite of hundreds of millions of fans for whom they embodies the dream of sporting glory.
After the elimination of Spain in the round of 16, the Queen of Jordan, Rania, published a tweet whose part in Arabic (“Congratulations to the Atlas Lions, you have made us happy”) emphasized the shared sentiment, unlike the one written in English: “Wow, Morocco!
You've done it again."
In neighboring Lebanon, immersed in a severe economic crisis since 2019, they follow their matches on their mobile phones or in cafeterias,
مبرووووووك لأسود الأطلس فرحتونا🇲🇦
You did it again#اسود_الاطلس
— Rania Al Abdullah (@QueenRania) December 6, 2022
It is not only the Maghreb or the Middle East.
From Dakar to Lagos and from Johannesburg to Ouagadougou, all of Africa celebrates the feat.
The continent's teams had never made it past the quarterfinals, which Cameroon reached in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010. After the victory against Portugal, dozens of young people jumped for joy in Dakar in the middle of the square the independence.
Motorists honked their horns as they sped down the West Corniche, while passers-by waved their fists up.
"We are all with them, at this moment they carry the flag and the pride of an entire continent," said a young Senegalese student, Adama Diop, after watching the game.
That special significance is heightened even more now because France, the last stumbling block towards the final, is the former colonial metropolis of much of Africa.
"The entire continent supports you," tweeted one of the most popular African players, Cameroonian Samuel Eto'o, formerly of Barcelona.
Another of the continent's stars, Didier Drogba, the Ivorian striker who played for Chelsea, sent a message to the Moroccan coach: "Brother, I'm very happy for you."
Outside of sports, Macky Sall, president of Senegal and the African Union, wrote on his Twitter profile: “Historical!
The Atlas Lions are qualified for the World Cup semifinals!
Bravo for Morocco!
Political relations between Morocco and the rest of the continent have not always been easy, but the increased investment of the Alaouite kingdom in the sub-Saharan region, the improvement of bilateral relations with many countries, the presence of a considerable diaspora in several capitals and its return to the African Union in 2017 has relocated Rabat to a more central position in the life of the continent.
A phenomenon sign of the times
James M. Dorsey, an expert on soccer in the Middle East and North Africa, contextualizes the phenomenon in two elements.
The first is some kind of payback for a "part of the world that has spent the last decade on the defensive because of terrorism, political violence and Islamophobia."
The second is that it occurs in a context of a shift in international relations from unipolarity to multipolarity, with the consequent loss of weight of the West.
“In a way, Morocco's victories are being perceived in that framework,” he says.
Dorsey clarifies, however, that historical experience does not lead one to think that the Moroccan feat "will have real practical consequences" beyond football.
And he gives two examples: the match between British and German soldiers during the famous Christmas truce of 1914, at the start of World War I, and Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup in 2007, a year in which it was particularly mired in attacks and sectarian clashes.
Neither the first prevented millions of deaths and four more years of conflict, nor the second – held in unison by Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites – stopped the bloodshed.
“It is often said that soccer, and sport in general, is a bridge, but it is only one when you want to use it as such,” summarizes Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S.
The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
(The turbulent world of soccer in the Middle East).
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