Moroccan football fans exploded in joy on Saturday as their team became the first African and Arab country to reach a World Cup semifinal, filling the stadium in Qatar with a deafening roar and unleashing cheering, crying, dancing and singing on the streets at home.
The 1-0 victory over Portugal was celebrated further afield, with exuberant fans from Abidjan in Ivory Coast to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia lauding what they saw as a historic win for both Africa and the Arab World.
“They made us happy and proud, and they proved that they can make it to the final. Why not? We are so proud of this team that is supported by Africa and Arabs” said Siham Motahir, a young woman in Rabat, where cafes had filled with fans to watch the game.
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To the rhythmic playing of a horn, men and women jumped up and down waving the Moroccan flag - part of a sea of people who had filled Rabat’s city center, raising a cacophonous din of triumph.
The win over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal is Morocco’s third over a highly ranked European team in the tournament, a run that had brought delight both in Morocco and for Africans and Arabs more widely.
African Union President Macky Sall wrote on Twitter, using capital letters to emphasize his excitement: “HISTORIC! AND FANTASTIC! THE ATLAS LIONS ARE QUALIFIED FOR THE SEMI-FINALS OF THE WORLD CUP! BRAVO MOROCCO.”
Arab and African political and sporting leaders paid tribute to Morocco, including tweets from the prime ministers of Libya, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority and the rulers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Former Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba tweeted, “They did it!!!! Well done Morocco for this feat. Long live Africa.”
In an Abidjan cafe where people were watching the game, customer Jules Goule said Ivorians were proud of Morocco’s win.
“Through Morocco Africa has just shown that it can compete with other continents in football,” he said.
Arab and African joy
“Waoh, waoh... Morocco! It’s with great joy! Africa is shining! Go Africa!” shouted Agwe Jefferson, 28, a driver in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.
In Libya, a crowd watching the game in the port city of Misrata lit red flares and waved Libyan and Moroccan flags, while in the Tunisian capital people celebrated the victory.
“Today Morocco honored Africans and Arabs and made the dream we all have possible,” said Ameur Souilam in Tunis.
Meanwhile in the Palestinian territories and Israel, thousands of people packed cafes, restaurants and football stadiums screening the match, bursting into cheers with Morocco’s triumph. After its previous win, Morocco’s team had posed with the Palestinian flag.
“Seeing the Palestinian flag being waved by Morocco footballers made us feel as if we won,” said Gaza businessman Imad Joudat.
In the Edgware Road district of London, long a center of the city’s Arab community, the street was jammed with cars honking horns and waving flags and in Paris chanting and cheering Moroccan fans filled the Champs Elysees.
Singing, flag waving, cheering
Moroccan fans erupted when Youssef En-Nesyri scored the game’s only goal. In the Jmaa al-Fnaa, the historic main square of Marrakech where authorities had put a big screen for fans, thousands of people leaped up and down as the ball went in.
As the game wound on, Morocco fans in the stadium screamed “Ole, ole, ole!” in unison, drowning out the handful of Portuguese fans and whistling whenever Portugal took possession of the ball.
Behind the two goals, banks of Moroccan supporters stood for the whole match with drummers and fan leaders coordinating the chants.
One man wearing the red and green of Morocco’s national flag and its football kit raised his hands in supplication as the final minutes ticked away, shouting “O God, o God.”
In the media box, a security guard, screaming with triumph, hugged a Moroccan journalist who was weeping with happiness.
As Moroccan player Jawad El Yamiq circled the pitch with a half-Moroccan, half-Qatari flag draped around his shoulders, one fan stood motionless, looking out over the pitch with his hands over his mouth as if unable to take in the scale of the win.
With many Moroccans living and working in the Gulf, Morocco’s World Cup matches have felt like home-team games and Ismail Chakour, a Dubai-based banker, said he had been determined to attend the match “whatever the cost.”
In Rabat, joyful fans thronged the streets and headed toward the downtown square where Morocco’s victories are celebrated.
Children were hoisted onto parents shoulders and bounced up and down with the rest of the crowd, singing songs and waving flags.
“The last few minutes felt like hours,” said Samir Saqri as he joined a crowd pouring out from the cafe where they had watched the game to head downtown.
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