Rabat, Morocco – There is one thing everyone in Morocco has on their minds since the football team’s victory against Portugal: a World Cup trophy.
It’s something the population of 37 million feels more than declares. The streets of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, look like any administrative metropolis on a weekday.
Its fast-paced, goal-oriented populace race from one end to another, its streets packed with customers, workers and pigeons in search of the day’s meal.
And yet, ask anyone and Morocco’s collective obsession over the World Cup and the nation’s historic rise in it comes out.
“Seriously, we have gotten so far, how could we not go farther,” 18-year-old Ahmad Alami told Al Jazeera, speaking alongside his friends who nodded in blind agreement.
“Nya,” Alami’s friend Ayman Alouchi implored.
“Nya” is a word that thrummed in the mind of all Moroccans ever since this World Cup fairytale began with the shock wins over Belgium, Canada, Spain and Portugal. It translates to “have faith” but tells the team to “do your part and have faith in God”.
“Nya” became a popularly used expression when Morocco’s coach Walid Regragui first referred to it in a pre-match World Cup press conference ahead of the match against Belgium. The win saw the trust in Regragui’s leadership, and his calls for faith, emerge as a symbol of Moroccans’ loyal support for the national team.
The expression is now affirmed by politicians, media, fans and people from all walks of life to represent Morocco’s historic and unexpected rise to the ranks of football giants.
The word, now synonymous with Morocco in the World Cup, has reached such magnitude that the country’s ministry of religious affairs, one of the bodies closest to the Royal Palace, broadcast on Tuesday a message asking Moroccans to increase their “nya”.
The kinetic excitement is shared across the country’s public institutions. In Parliament, a session dedicated to discussing the country’s severe drought on Monday turned to messages of congratulations, wishes of success and mostly prideful monologues by MPs on what it means to be Moroccan.
Likewise, the feeling spread across the nation’s rural and urban, rich and poor, developed and deprived to unite a people who for the last years suffered one blow after another.
The pandemic and now a drought in the making has set costs of life soaring high, but for 34-year-old merchant Amina El Ouafi, Morocco’s presence at a World Cup semifinal is a step out of mundane life for her and her children.
“It’s been so long that I was able to do something nice for my children,” she said.
“I can barely cover our monthly expenses, but I told myself why not – I will do it now,” she added, before describing the bright red and green shirts she bought for her six and 12-year-old ahead of the semifinal.
They cost her a day’s worth of food.
Ouafi spoke near a café in central Rabat where a group of senior citizens were playing checkers.
“By God’s will, you will not be disappointed,” a man in the group addressed her.
She turned and smiled, hands lifted in prayer – a gesture that has now become common among Moroccans, who, while known to be a friendly bunch, have turned their friendliness up a couple more notches as their team progresses in the World Cup.
The man who addressed her, 71-year-old Ali Maarouf, said that being able to witness Wednesday’s game was a gift from God.
“You know, if he doesn’t take me by tomorrow,” he said, giggling.
Maarouf, who is suffering from heart disease and is partially blind said that, for lack of a better alternative, he would follow the game on the radio.
Morocco’s state-owned TV channels have been unable to show the Atlas Lions World Cup matches but authorities, since Sunday, rushed to install large screens in city squares to enable citizens to follow the Atlas Lion’s match against France in the semifinal.
“It would not matter if we win or lose. I’m just really happy we could reach such a high. It feels like the perfect way to close the year, to look forward to what’s to come and to have a renewed sense of unity,” 31-year-old Smail Lahmidi, whose car is decorated in Morocco’s iconic red and green, said.
“It is an unbelievable year for us all.”