'We have an Arab team': Morocco's World Cup heroes celebrated by fans across Middle East

Historic knockout victory over Spain seen as a win for the entire Arab world

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It was not only Moroccans wildly celebrating their team's historic World Cup knockout victory over Spain on Tuesday — as fans from across the Middle East and North Africa were left ecstatic at what they saw as a victory for the entire Arab world.

From Baghdad to Casablanca, fans cheered as Morocco became the first Arabic-speaking country to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Qatar, the first held in an Arab country. They won 3-0 on penalties after a 0-0 draw following extra time.

In Rabat, where fans had crowded cafes for hours beforehand to watch the game, people jammed downtown roads leading to a square where fans had partied after previous Morocco victories, flags waving from their windows and horns furiously sounding.

“It is the first time I had this feeling,” said Fahd Belbachir, on his way to the city centre. “We are so proud.”

Leaders from across the Arab world showered praise on the Moroccan side.

“Congratulations to the Atlas lions, you delighted us,” Queen Rania of Jordan wrote on Twitter. “Wow Morocco, you did it again!”

In Rabat, Brahim Ait Belkhit said his joy was so great that he had patched up a feud with somebody he had avoided for years after seeing them in the street.

“It made us forget our old quarrel,” he said.

Cheers also went up in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis, Amman and Ramallah as Arabs rejoiced at the largely unexpected win over highly fancied Spain.

It echoed the pan-Arab pride that has surfaced during several memorable performances by Arab sides at the Qatar World Cup — a contrast to the political disputes that have long divided some Arab states.

Outside the stadium in Doha, where Moroccan fans had appeared to vastly outnumber Spaniards with more than 44,000 people attending, women raised their voices in ululation and men banged drums in a spontaneous dance party.

Hundreds of Moroccan fans had flown into Qatar for the game, joining the large number of resident Moroccans, and there had been some scuffles as people without tickets were unable to enter the stadium.

“I grew up watching big Spanish teams Barcelona and Madrid. So to beat a huge country like Spain is a huge victory for Morocco,” said Taha Lahrougui, 23, a Moroccan who lives in Doha.

Victory over Spain, which ruled large parts of Morocco in the colonial era and where many Moroccans now live, may have felt particularly sweet.

Fans packed Barcelona's Raval district, waving Moroccan flags, cheering and lighting flares. The winning penalty taker, Achraf Hakimi, was himself born in Madrid.

Ahmed Inoubli, who is half-Tunisian and half-Algerian, lives in Doha and is married to a Moroccan woman. He said “nothing is impossible” at the World Cup.

“We have an Arab team. Look at these fans. Do you think they are all Moroccan? No — just Arabs,” he said gesturing towards the enormous, joyful crowd.

An Arab victory

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim watched the game in the stadium, giving a thumbs up and holding the Moroccan flag, and congratulations for the winning team quickly poured in from Arab leaders.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Al Dbeibah were among those who congratulated Morocco.

“This is a win for all Arabs, not just Morocco and the joy is even greater since it was achieved on Arab soil,” said Hazem Al Fayez, a Jordanian who was honking his car horn in Amman to celebrate.

In Beirut, Ralph Beydoun, 31, said he thought it was “a great and much-needed win for the youth of the Arab world and especially the youth of Morocco”.

Palestinians in Gaza support Morocco during the match against Spain, on Tuesday. AFP

At a Tunis cafe, fans clapped and sang as the game finished.

“It is a historic win and Morocco is honouring all Arabs and Africans,” said Nourredine Sassi.

Egyptian Mohamed Aly, 35, said he felt nervous as he watched the match in Cairo.

“Playing in Qatar helps them a lot, all Arab fans are supporting them there,” he said.

Morocco are also the last African team left in the tournament and only the fourth to ever reach the quarter-finals after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

Morocco has in recent decades more fully embraced its African and Amazigh, as well as Arab, identity, and the victory was also cheered elsewhere in the continent.

Sudan's Deputy Ruling Council head Mohamed Dagalo tweeted “Thanks to the Atlas lions”, adding “congratulations for the Arab and African fans”.

“This is a dream come true. We won — and Africa won with us,” said Lahcen Damolay, a teacher in the crowd cheering Morocco's victory in central Rabat.

Player ratings: Morocco v Spain - in pictures

Updated: December 07, 2022, 8:55 AM
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