Morocco’s ecstasy is what the World Cup should be about

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The North Africans pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament last night, much to the delight of their fans.

The Qatari World Cup has been a festival of the oxymoron; a gleaming exhibition of affluence built on the bowed back of intense poverty and worker exploitation, a global affair ostensibly celebrating inclusivity while unapologetically pressing a jackboot on the windpipe of the LGBTQ+ community. On the pitch, things have been similarly paradoxical. How can it be that in a tournament which began with Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia, with Japan thwarting both Germany and Spain, and with Belgium doing their best impression of a fortune cookie in a blender, that the quater-finals look so decidedly... expected?

France, Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, Portugal, England, and Croatia are all there, tussling for a place in the last four. I’ve had flashbacks with more shocking conclusions. In fact, the only genuinely surprising pillar yet to collapse is that of the Moroccan national team. The Atlas Lions (because if you’re permitted to choose your own nickname you might as well go all out) frustrated Spain to a point of implosion on Tuesday evening, eventually brushing up the shrapnel and shards of their spirit into the dustpan of a penalty shootout.

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It was Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi who would deliver the fatal, feathered blow, nuzzling a deft dink over the line before doing an inexplicable little penguin dance. Somewhere in a Doha hotel room, there’s a maid scraping the gory, plasmatic residue of Roy Keane’s forehead vein from a ceiling fan as we speak. But while the ending was muted, the epilogue was anything but.


Morocco’s fans have been sublime this tournament. Raucous and impassioned, they have made every encounter their side has been involved in feel like a home game. Cliche-ridden appraisals will probably refer them to as a ‘twelfth man’, and while nobody can quantifiably attest to the actual impact they have had on Morocco’s progression, sometimes cliches are cliches for a reason.

Up in the stands, tears of disbelief flowed freely as euphoric faces were left scrunched up in quivering exultation, while down on the pitch, limbs flailed about in fitful chaos and bodies were flung into amorphous heaps of thrilled bewilderment. ‘Happy Feet’ Hakimi even jumped the barrier to emotionally embrace his mother in an image that will be likely go down in Moroccan folklore. Several timezones away, Edgware Road and Ladbroke Grove erupted as London was flooded by an ecstatic mob of flag-toting, flare-smoking supporters. This was an upset that was felt all across the world, from Qatar to England to Morocco itself, where the pandemonium must have been unimaginable.

Not since 1986 had Morocco reached the knockout stages of a World Cup. They have never before been to a quarter-final. Their progress is a cause for celebration not just on the streets of Rabat, but all across Africa, and all across the Arab-speaking world. Next they face a Portugal side who soared against Switzerland after having jettisoned the weight of Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego. Maybe they will win that match - accepted logic would suggest they probably won’t. But regardless of what happens this weekend, the Atlas Lions have already delivered something remarkable; joy.

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