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Before the euphoria, there was tension. A lot of tension.
In the Education City Stadium, I sat in the middle of a sea of red and green – so many different iterations of the Moroccan colours.
The sound was more roars than chants. Morocco’s team is known as “Lions of the Atlas”. And the dominating chant was the now famous Moroccan “seer” which translates as “go” or “go ahead”.
You could tell when Spain were on the offensive from all the whistling and jeering. People were literally on the edge of their seats and as the game went to a penalty shootout I stood among Moroccan spectators outside the stadium, huddled over a phone and holding their breath.
Then came Achraf Hakimi, the Moroccan star who was born in Spain. His was the decisive kick that delivered his team’s ticket to the quarter-finals – the first Arab nation to do so. “We’re coming Portugal,” a group of fans chanted near a huge World Cup replica trophy outside the stadium.
This victory happened in Doha and echoed all across the Arab world.
Social media images showed the Cairo Tower lit in the colours of the Moroccan flag in the Egyptian capital. In Gaza, thousands of spectators gathered to watch the nail-biting game on big screens. In London the famous Arab diaspora street Edgeware Road turned into an open-air party with honking and the Moroccan flag flying from car windows.
Late at night as I looked out of my hotel room window, the skyscraper opposite radiated the red flag with the green star.
Another that was prominently visible in this game and many other World Cup matches was the Palestinian flag.
And it wasn’t just the spectators, the Moroccan team was pictured with the Palestinian flag as they celebrated their victory over Spain. Many spectators have used the World Cup as a chance to be vocal about the Palestinian cause and make the flag more visible.
Morocco qualifying for the quarter-finals is much more than just football. This is one team’s win and the pride of a whole region. A cause for much needed collective joy in the Arab World.
“It’ a night for everyone,” Hakim Chebbaa told me of his team’s win. He travelled from Dubai and met his brother Adil, who travelled from London, here in Doha.
“It’s a night for Qatar (the host country). It’s a night for the Arab world. It’s a night for happiness,” he added.
“This is history,” Adil Chebbaa added.
Mohamed Liani, an Algerian fan, told me this was his fourth World Cup and for him it was the most emotional one.
“They (Morocco) are our neighbours. We stand by them and we’re very proud of them,” he said. “Dima Maghreb! (Morocco forever!)
“When we have a contender in the tournament, it keeps the emotion going. It keeps the people going. It’s a party for everyone.”
One of the chants I heard as I was walking out of the stadium was in Arabic and it translates as “A Moroccan greeting – an Arab celebration”. While many spectators across Africa were also hailing Morocco – one of the continent’s most prominent teams – this felt like an Arab victory.
“You can see it.” said Adil Chebbaa. “From Morocco all the way to the Gulf States we are united.”
“We’re not united in politics. But we’re united in sport. And that’s what football is all about.”
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