Ecstatic Morocco fans say World Cup progression ‘for all Arabs’

Morocco make it into the round of 16 for the first time since 1986 and only for the second time in their history.

Canada vs Morocco
Morocco made it through to the knockout stage of the World Cup, December 1, 2022, at Al Thumama Stadium [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – There’s only one show at Al Thumama Stadium – it’s the Lions de l’Atlas (Atlas Lions).

After what can only be described as a highly spirited affair, Morocco fan Sara Sulaiman said she was “euphoric” as her team progressed to the round of 16 of the football World Cup in Qatar, beating Canada 2-1 with goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri.

This is the first time since 1986 that the North African nation has made it through to the knockout stage of the tournament. It’s also the only Arab country out of four to do so in the 2022 edition.

“I’m not just over the moon, I’m way over it. It is an incredible achievement for our small nation,” Sulaiman told Al Jazeera.

Canada vs Morocco,
Morocco are through to the last 16 of the World Cup, thrilling their supporters and ensuring an exit for Canada, on December 1, 2022, at Al Thumama Stadium [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The 28-year-old from Fez believes the Atlas Lions “definitely” have a chance to make it further in the tournament. They will next face Spain in a knockout match on December 6.

“I think we can win more – maybe even the tournament,” Sulaiman said, laughing loudly, adding that no matter what happened next, she was “very proud” of the team.

“They have already made us so happy. I don’t want to put more pressure,” she said.

Malek Alami, from Marrakesh, said Thursday’s win was the “happiest moment in his life”.

“I have no words, just so many feelings – all happy ones. This is an incredible achievement for us,” Alami said, adding that the qualification will “unite our country”.

The 37-year-old tourism coordinator said there will be nonstop celebrations back home.

“The party will continue until Fajr [the dawn prayer for Muslims], today,” Alami said.

Canada vs Morocco, Group F
Morocco defeated Canada on December 1, 2022, at Al Thumama Stadium [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Many supporters stayed on after the game ended and continued their celebrations outside the gates of the stadium.

“Always Morocco,” they cheered as they laughed with friends and family, and of course, took selfies to mark the historic occasion.

Hundreds of revellers gathered near the FIFA music stage, many carrying their children on their shoulders, shouting out “Viva la Maghreb”, or “Long Live Morocco”.

On the pitch, the Morocco players held up the flag of Palestine, something that fans have also done throughout the tournament in solidarity with the Palestinians living under occupation.

Canada vs Morocco
The Atlas Lions top their group after defeating Canada on December 1, 2022, at Al Thumama Stadium [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, Canada fans were less buoyant as they resigned themselves to their team’s exit from the tournament after losing both of their previous games.

“I think it was a good game. It’s not fun to lose,” Kelly White, 44, told Al Jazeera.

“But this tournament for us was to show the world we are [a football] nation. We can compete at the highest level,” she said. “Hopefully we will be better in 2026 when Canada will be the host. I can’t wait!”

Even before kickoff, the atmosphere at the nearly 45,000-capacity venue was electrifying.

Morocco fans, who have been exuberant in their support for their national team throughout the tournament, slowly made their way into the venue in several large groups, singing and dancing to Arab and French songs, including Algerian singer Khaled’s C’est la vie, to uplift the mood.

Once the game started, every move forward by the Atlas Lions was cheered with thunderous roars. Their supporters jeered and booed loudly each time their team was fouled.

“This is a huge win, not just for Morocco but all Arabs,” Mohammed Hisham, from Marrakesh, told Al Jazeera.

“All my friends from Tunisia or Lebanon or Qatar are behind us,” the 36-year-old, who lives in Doha, added.

“The World Cup being in the Middle East is already a major achievement – now this qualification, it’s remarkable.”

Source: Al Jazeera