Morocco inspire the Arab world after departing Women's World Cup as history-makers

The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament defied expectations to reach the knockout stages and drew enormous support in Australia

Morocco players celebrate their win over Colombia which sent them through to the Women's World Cup knockout stages. EPA
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Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium is used to seeing hordes of red-shirted fans descend upon it given its local A-League men’s team, Adelaide United, also have the primary colour as their, well, primary colour.

But it was a different hue of red, with a slight tinge of green, that packed its stands on a crisp Tuesday night as Morocco looked to continue their fairytale run at the Women’s World Cup against the might of France.

“We are a small population here, but it's amazing to feel like we're inside Morocco, in our culture, it’s just unbelievable,” Samar, an Australian-Moroccan from Melbourne, an eight-hour drive east of Adelaide, told The National before the game.

On Manton Street, outside the main entrance, a simple portable tent had been turned into a makeshift Bedouin tent, complete with traditional linings, that served as a gathering point for Moroccans from all across Australia.

They sang. They danced. They reacquainted with old friends and made new ones alike.

“Seeing Moroccans here gathered together is such a blessing, because here in Australia you don't see many Moroccans,” Fatima, also from Melbourne, said. “When you do see one it's like a surprise, so we're very happy to see all the Moroccans here.”

Channeling a theme repeated by some of their players, her friend Safiya, from Hobart in Tasmania, a small island state off the southern coast of mainland Australia, remarked that their success was more than just for Morocco – it was for the entire Arab world.

“All the Arab nations, all the African nations - it’s not just Morocco, we’re all here together,” she said.

That the third of their traveling contingent, Aisha, also from Melbourne, is Saudi Arabian exemplified that point.

All three came to the game wearing the Sebniya, a Moroccan headscarf traditionally worn by the indigenous Amazigh people. This was, if nothing else, a chance to proudly come together to display their Moroccan and Arab culture and heritage.

“Morocco is everywhere,” midfielder Elodie Nakkach told The National after the game. “They are amazing. They give an incredible support all around the world, and we thank them for that.”

While Australia’s Moroccan population may be small, that was not the case for their opposition on Tuesday night.

France is home to the largest Moroccan population outside Morocco itself, a by-product of France’s colonial rule of the North African country before they gained independence in 1956, adding extra significance to the clash, not least for the seven players in the Moroccan squad who were born in France.

France end Morocco's World Cup dream

Nakkach, who is one of those born in France, called the match “a little bit special” but added “we are playing for Morocco and tonight it was Morocco.”

As a contest, however, it was over inside the opening half hour as France ran rampant with three goals in an eight-minute burst that demonstrated the quality that many think could take them all the way. They added a fourth in the second half to round out their 4-0 victory.

It was a bitter end to a magical three weeks for the Atlas Lionesses, which included back-to-back wins over South Korea and Colombia. But despite the disappointment of the night, they depart Australia having, like their male counterparts in Qatar, created history.

As the first Arab nation to ever qualify for the Women’s World Cup, they almost had no right even being here. Ranked 72nd in the official Fifa rankings, only Zambia were ranked lower of the 32 teams.

In their first ever Women’s World Cup, in a group also containing Germany and South Korea, both firmly ensconced inside the world’s top 20, the idea that Morocco would make it this far would’ve been considered fanciful just a few short weeks ago.

Morocco women's team dedicate win over Colombia to King Mohammed VI

Morocco women's team dedicate win over Colombia to King Mohammed VI

But these stories are why we love sport. The narrative of the impossible made possible is why tens of millions around the globe tune in to World Cups with hope in their hearts.

The scenes of the team huddled around their phones on the pitch in Perth awaiting their fate at the conclusion of group stage will live long in the memory.

It’s why it felt like the entire Moroccan population of Australia had descended on Adelaide to watch their side attempt to make even more history. Sometimes you just never know.

In the end, it wasn’t to be. But despite the chill of the night seeing most people want to keep their hands in their pockets, not even four French goals could dampen their spirits as they sang and danced into the night, even long after the full-time whistle had been blown.

Despite the loss, Tuesday night was a celebration.

Updated: August 09, 2023, 7:02 AM