‘The right to dream’: Hope in Morocco ahead of Spain match

The eternal underachievers finally rise to a World Cup.

Morocco is on the verge of qualifying for a World Cup quarter-final, a feat the team has never achieved in five previous World Cup appearances.

A draw against 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia was followed by a surprise victory over Belgium and a defeat to Canada in the group stage. Suddenly, Moroccans began to believe, wishing that the dream would continue.

On Tuesday the sun rose in Morocco and that brought hope and expectations.

Most cafes in Morocco are now draped with flags and banners. Some have set up special menus and not only added more TVs, but also upgraded the existing TVs to bigger and better screens, hoping to attract more customers.

If fans want to watch the match in a café, they must arrive at least two hours before kick-off, or book a table the night before. Without it, seats are hard to find.

Morocco World Cup fever on the street [Khadija Satou/Al Jazeera]

Cinemas will show the match instead of movies. Local musicians are invited to cheer and sing the national anthem with the fans.

Jordan team coach Adnan Hamad, who hails from Iraq, labeled the Moroccan team as the “dark horse” of the tournament.

“That team is considered the best Arab team to play at the World Cup in Qatar. It has 20 professional players from major European leagues. In the qualifications it passed with flying colors and has a great chance to grow from the group,” he told Al Jazeera before the start of the game.

“I believe the Moroccan team has the best players, and the chance is in their hands to be the dark horse of the tournament.”

Qualifying for the World Cup was a big problem for the country, but after that all eyes were on reaching the group stage.

“I’m scared. Not because I don’t believe in the team. All we can do is support and encourage and have faith,” Moroccan supporter Kaoutar told Al Jazeera in Marrakesh. “Spain is a strong team and has quite a lot achieved, but let’s stay optimistic and hope for the best.”

Another fan, Mohammed, meanwhile, is more optimistic: “I strongly believe that we will crash Spain. We have a strong team that can beat Spain and any other team and stay in the World Cup. Even if we lose, I still go out to celebrate because as a Moroccan I am proud of the team. We are the only remaining team representing Arabs and that is quite amazing.”

Morocco World Cup Fever
Sweaters, scarves and flags are sold in Morocco [Khadija Satou/Al Jazeera]

For some, including fan Mehdi, there is a bit of superstition involved.

“I won’t cheer and talk about the team until Tuesday. If anyone asks I will say we have no chance against Spain, but deep down I think we can make history. I used this tactic for all the previous games and look , we are still in the World Cup,” he said.

National TV channels broadcast daily football segments in the news bulletins to show the players during their training and preparations, live footage of them getting ready for the match and interviews with team officials and family members.

The newspapers write about the new coach, how he managed to build the team and also praise the players about how they have performed so far. World Cup fever, coupled with the team’s performance, has the country firmly in its grip.

On match day, flags hang everywhere, people sing national songs in the streets and shout the name of midfielder Hakim Ziyech. They also have a message for the Moroccan supporters in Qatar: be as loud and cheerful as possible so that the players feel like they are playing in Casablanca.

And that request is being answered in the Gulf.

“This team makes the hearts of all Moroccans beat as one. The pride, excitement – ​​and fear – we haven’t seen since 1986,” said Yasmina Bennani, a Moroccan supporter in Qatar. “To get past the first round was the first football joy for the young generation and it’s wonderful because what happens on the pitch brings together children from the Moroccan diaspora, born all over Europe.”

The fans in Qatar were loud and vocal in their support for Morocco [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

For Boutaina Essadiki, the team’s achievements have been a shining light not only for Moroccans, but for all Arab football fans.

“The victory [over Spain] will be a victory for all Arab teams,” Essadiki said. “I am so proud to be Moroccan now. And given the situation, even if I wasn’t Moroccan, I’d like to be one to join in and celebrate.”

Back in Essaouira, a port city in the western Moroccan region of Marrakesh-Safi on the Atlantic Ocean, a big screen has been set up in a famous square called Place Moulay Hassan to broadcast all the national team’s matches.

A video shared after the victory over Belgium showed fans and police officials dancing together.

Moroccans around the world, and some neutral fans, will hope that the dancing continues.

“Most people had no faith in us that we can beat Belgium and qualify. But now look at us, we have qualified for the last 16 and will hopefully win against Spain and continue the journey to the final,” said Sami, a Moroccan supporter.

“We have every right to dream. We are not called the Atlas Lions for nothing.”

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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