‘This is a dream’: Morocco fans elated after Belgium win

Doha, Qatar – The atmosphere before kick-off was electric.

Fans of the Atlas Lions, as the Moroccan national team is known, gathered early on Sunday in front of the 44,000-capacity Al Thumama Stadium, hoping to experience a historic surprise.

There was a carnival atmosphere with a DJ playing Arabic songs to warm up the crowd for the World Cup Group F clash.

Morocco, 22nd in the FIFA rankings, was up against the star-studded Red Devils of Belgium, one of the tournament favorites and second in the world rankings.

“Nobody gave us a chance. They all said that Belgium will humiliate us. But we beat them,” said Othmane Benjelloun, holding back tears after Morocco stunned the Belgians 2-0.

“This is a dream for us. We were brave and did not sit down. We believed in our team and our players felt our great support. What you see here is history,” he added, as tears finally streamed down his cheeks.

The matchup was Morocco’s 18th match at the World Cup and 14th against European opposition. The North Africans have won two and drawn six of their last 11 World Cup group stage matches against European nations.

The last World Cup that Morocco won was against Scotland in 1998.

Belgium’s line-up was full of familiar names: Manchester City’s midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield; Thibaut Courtois, from Real Madrid, current winner of the Yashin trophy for the best ranked goalkeeper in the world; and Courtois’s teammate Eden Hazard leading the attack.

But that didn’t deter the thousands of red-and-green-clad Atlas Lions fans, or their team. They felt that it was their moment. They cheered, sang and waved the blue and green national flag relentlessly. The noise inside the arena was heartbreaking.

“Incredible day. Our tactics were on point. We attacked at the right time and defended when we needed to. We tired them out,” said Adel Ez-Zaidi, who came from Frankfurt in Germany to watch the match.

“All day that you can feel that today will be a special day. We were very positive even before kickoff. This means everything to all of us. It’s like a very good dream. You don’t want it to end or for you to wake up,” he added before running off to join other fans in the entertainment area outside the stadium.

The matchup was Morocco’s 18th match at the World Cup and their 14th against European opposition. [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

From the opening whistle, it was clear that the Moroccan players were up for the challenge of beating one of the most feared teams in the tournament.

They flew into the tackles and shut down the Belgians at every opportunity. Achraf Hakimi, the Paris Saint-Germain right-back, set the tone with his lung-shattering runs, his long strides covering every inch of the green turf as they sought to break through the Belgian back line.

“These players, with their performance today, showed how much they care and how much it means to play for our country,” said Hanan Rahho, who flew in from Neuss in Germany for the masterpiece. “Hakimi was everywhere. With players like us we can go far. Everything is possible. It is very promising. I wouldn’t be surprised if we win the World Cup.”

“It’s the best feeling there is. We not only won, but we showed that we deserved to win against a great team. I feel like crying, ”she added, putting her hands to her face.

It wasn’t just the Moroccans who were rooting for the Atlas Lions to beat Belgium. There were many Tunisian, Palestinian, Saudi and Omani flags in the crowd cheering on the North Africans.

“It is wonderful what they did. I am very proud of them. No one will ever forget this day. No Arab will forget it,” said Imad Azaizeh, a Palestinian who traveled from Dammam in Saudi Arabia to support Morocco.

“They are the dark horse of the World Cup. They can achieve whatever they want and we will support them no matter what.”

Morocco’s next game is Canada on Thursday, and the fans celebrating at Al Thumama Stadium are looking forward to the showdown.

“Canada won’t want to play us after seeing how we played today. No team will want to face us. We are the lions of the Atlas Mountains,” said Benjelloun, wiping away tears of joy.

Morocco is 20 places below Belgium in the FIFA ranking [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

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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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