Doha, Qatar – Morocco’s unprecedented success at the World Cup has caused a welcome headache for shopkeepers in Doha’s Souq Waqif.
Replica shirts of the North African team have sold out and there is a growing demand for more.
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In the days leading up to the tournament, shops lining the narrow alleys of the iconic market in the city centre changed their displays from everyday Arab clothes and accessories to colourful shirts, scarves and flags of the countries playing in the World Cup.
Argentina, Brazil and hosts Qatar had been the most popular teams among football fans thronging the tourist hub in the first few weeks of the World Cup.
Now, Morocco – who face France in the World Cup semifinal on Wednesday evening – has left every other team in its wake.
“In November, we used to sell a handful of Morocco shirts every day from the dozens we had ordered,” shopkeeper Muhammad Sadiq told Al Jazeera hours after Morocco beat Portugal to become the first African and first Arab semifinalists in the history of the tournament.
As soon as Morocco started piling on points in the group stage, demand for the team’s shirt and merchandise skyrocketed. Demand soared even higher after the Atlas Lions beat Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages.
“Every time Morocco won, we would place an order for hundreds more [shirts] and sell out by mid-afternoon on the day of the next game,” Sadiq said.
Since the team qualified for the semifinals, thousands of fans have been flying into Doha from various parts of the world. Upon arrival in Doha, their first stop is Souq Waqif, and the first item on their shopping list is either a Morocco shirt, or flag, and in some cases, both.
Anas El Karim flew in from Berlin a day after Morocco’s win over Portugal.
“I was told I would be able to find my team’s shirt here but it seems to have been sold out,” he said with a look of disappointment.
Sadiq, who had been digging through a pile of team shirts as his newest customer looked on, pulled one out to El Karim’s delight.
There are also many Doha-based fans who began supporting Morocco after their giant-killing spree in the latter stages of the tournament.
“I wasn’t a Morocco fan until I saw them beat the big European teams,” Yousuf Ahmed, a football fan from India, said while searching for a Morocco shirt in Sadiq’s shop. “I have been looking for their shirt for days now but every time I come here it is sold out, so now I will make do with a flag.”
The bright red flag with a green star at its centre has taken over the host country. Fans from across the Arab world carry and wave it proudly in stadiums and fan zones. It is draped over skyscrapers, hung from apartment balconies and waved from cars beeping their horns after every Moroccan win.
It is safe to say that the Moroccan flag is now second in popularity only to the Palestinian flag across Qatar.
“Even Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians come asking for Morocco’s flag,” said Sharf-ud-Din, a Nepali shopkeeper who has added World Cup paraphernalia to his clothing store.
When local shop owners realised they would not be able to procure enough flags to meet the high demand in time, they came up with a quick-fix solution: making the flags in Qatar.
“A group of Bangladeshi and Pakistani men got sheets of red cloth from a local market and made these flags at home,” Din said, pointing to a handmade Morocco flag hanging next to the flags of Qatar and Palestine.
“They have done a real botch job with the green pentagram, but the buyers don’t care,” he said with a chuckle.
Sadiq, who began selling the Morocco shirt at 30 riyals ($8) apiece, said he now sells poorer quality shirts for a minimum of 50 riyals ($14).
“Our suppliers have told us they don’t have any shirts left in Bangladesh or China, so we will make the most of the few dozen we have left,” he said matter-of-factly.
Shops have enjoyed great business over the past few weeks, and are now out to make the most in the last remaining days before the football frenzy makes way for regular business.
If Morocco ends up beating France in the semifinal, Sadiq will have to come up with a solution to meet the demands of even more Moroccan fans who will be out to paint the country red.