Moroccans living in France loyal 'always and forever' ahead of historic World Cup match

Fans say victory over France would 'represent the triumph of Moroccans, Arabs and Islam'

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Noureddin Asha is a French-Moroccan who has been living in France for almost two decades.

He served in the French army and has a French passport.

But ahead of tonight's Fifa World Cup semi-final, he says his loyalty and that of other Moroccans living in France will “always and forever” be for his country of birth.

On Wednesday evening, France and Morocco face off in a game that has captured the attention of the world.

Arabs have rallied in support for the Moroccan team after the underdogs beat Belgium, Spain and Portugal, with one game separating them from the World Cup final.

Immigration between the two countries means picking a team to support on Wednesday might not be straightforward for everyone in the North African country.

Morocco gained independence from France in 1956 after 44 years of French rule.

But Mr Asha, 42, said Moroccans who have French citizenship will overwhelmingly be rooting for Morocco in Qatar.

“I can safely say that 99 per cent of all Moroccans carrying French passports and residencies will feel the same, even though our children are French. This does not change how we feel,” he said.

“The events today have surpassed football. They are political and a win would represent the triumph of Moroccans, Arabs and Islam.”

Hundreds of Moroccan fans waited for hours outside Al Janoub Stadium on Tuesday for a chance of a free ticket for the game, given out by the country's football federation.

Some camped out with blankets and took turns sleeping on the floor, such was their desire to watch the game.

Morocco fans queue for tickets outside of Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar. AP

Moroccan taekwondo coach Said Al Fadli, who lives in Abu Dhabi, said it was more important to simply beat France, regardless of reaching the World Cup final.

“Most of my friends, even those who live in France, are not torn about the nature of tonight's game,” he told The National.

“I hope the team wins tonight. Qualifying for the finals would be a great addition, but it's more important because it's being played specifically against France.”

Many see the match as more than just a face-off between two national teams. Post-colonial ties and the fact that more than one million Moroccans live in France have complicated matters.

Security forces in France are on high alert for potential clashes after the game, much like what happened after the Morocco v Belgium group stage match.

Mr Al Fadli said visiting Moroccan friends in France was no different to visiting them in his home country.

“Moroccans living abroad have very close ties to their country,” he said. “Their house felt as if they had taken it straight out of my village in Morocco.”

French-Moroccan political scientist Hassan Aourid told AFP that France is not just another western country to Moroccans, but “the enemy who dominated and colonised” them.

The Moroccan team raised the Palestinian flag after their recent win against Spain. The gesture came after Morocco normalised ties with Israel earlier this year.

Morocco's players with the Palestinian flag after beating Spain. AP

“Sports events like this bring much-needed cohesion between the people,” said Fouad Ramsis, who lives in Morocco capital Rabat.

“We celebrate with Palestine on the pitch,” said another Moroccan, Samya, on Twitter.

The Moroccan squad have the highest proportion of players born abroad of all the World Cup teams, at 14 of their 26 players. Coach Walid Regragui was born in France.

Over the past decade, Morocco’s relationship with France has changed, Hind Sabouni, 26, an English teacher in Rabat, told AP.

She said young Moroccans “speak English instead of French, they buy more American products than French ones and even those who want to seek a better life abroad try to avoid France”.

“This game is one of a kind, especially since France is next to beat,” she said.

“We can show the rest of the world that Morocco is no longer France’s backyard.

“Even though this is just a football game, some people view it as an opportunity for revenge.”

Updated: December 14, 2022, 6:18 AM