Thousands flock to streets of Rabat to welcome Morocco's returning World Cup heroes

Walid Regragui and his Atlas Lions players given spectacular homecoming after their exploits in Qatar

Heroes' welcome for Morocco's returning World Cup team

Heroes' welcome for Morocco's returning World Cup team
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Thousands of jubilant fans took to the streets of Rabat to welcome Morocco's World Cup football heroes back home on Tuesday.

People waved flags, set off fireworks, banged drums and chanted "ole, ole, ole, ole, Maghreb, Maghreb" - the Arabic name for Morocco - as manager Walid Regragui and his players travelled from the airport into the capital on an open-top bus.

The Atlas Lions became the first North African and first Arab nation to reach the semi-finals of the Fifa World Cup and attracted fans across the globe in support of their unexpected run.

Morocco players return to Rabat - in pictures

Despite going into the tournament as underdogs, they topped a group that included Belgium and Croatia, before beating 2010 World Cup winners Spain in the last 16 and 2016 European Champions Portugal in the quarter-finals.

They eventually went out to defending champions France in the semi-finals, in a close-fought game that did nothing to tarnish their reputation as a disciplined unit under manager Regragui.

A global inspiration

The heroics of Morocco players such as Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat and goalkeeper Yassine "Bono" Bounou won them fans across the world throughout their giant-killing campaign.

Thousands of Moroccan fans travelled to Qatar, creating a home-like atmosphere for their team, while others gathered in vast crowds at home and across the Middle East and Europe.

In Dubai, Moroccan fans spoke of their pride and gratitude to the team, who they said represented the Arab world.

The Atlas Lions also picked up plaudits from Arab leaders and celebrities across the region.

“Proud of the lions. Proud of the performance. Proud of the spirit. Proud of the achievement,” wrote Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur hailed the team as "an inspiration to us all."

"I will not be surprised that one day an African country will win the World Cup. I’ve always believed that. I just love the Moroccan spirit and hopefully other countries will follow that path, because honestly nothing is impossible,” she said.

The team were expected to meet Morocco's King Mohammed VI at the royal palace in Rabat later on Tuesday.

The World Cup was eventually won by Argentina, who beat France on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw. Morocco ended fourth after losing to Croatia in the third-place play-off.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 6:59 AM