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A Moroccan journalist in the press box broke down into tears shortly after Achraf Hakimi dinked a penalty shot into the goal at Doha, Qatar's Education City Stadium on Tuesday evening, sealing a historic upset that gave Morocco the first predominantly Arab country to advance for a World Cup quarterfinal.
Inside the stadium, a Moroccan security man covered his face with his hands. A shout could be heard in the capitals of the countries that were expected to win not just this match but maybe the whole tournament: Casablanca, Cairo, Gaza City, Algiers, Riyadh, Sanaa, Paris, Turin, and even Madrid.
The response was more nuanced in the Spanish city of Murcia, where there is a sizable population of individuals of Moroccan heritage.
A Spanish far-right organization tweeted a picture of the city hall lighted up in Moroccan red and green and said they would be seeking an explanation from the mayor.
The organization said that the municipal council had turned off the lights by Wednesday morning after a "public outcry" and a "commotion." However, it was subsequently revealed by the local media that the lights were intended to commemorate Christmas.
Laila Berhane, 35, an entrepreneur in Casablanca, reflected on the country's success and failures and remarked, "It's fantastic to see all Moroccans pleased for once." Despite a 1986 upset of Portugal, Morocco fell to West Germany in the final. In 1998, Morocco came close to advancing to the knockout round.
She remarked that the victory was all the more important given the year's economic uncertainty, worldwide conflicts, and post-pandemic recovery.
With their victory against Belgium, Morocco became the fourth Arab country to upset a widely fancied opponent at this World Cup, including Saudi Arabia's win over Argentina in the group stage, Tunisia's win over France, and Morocco's win over Belgium.
However, Morocco emerged victorious, sending millions of its citizens and those of the Moroccan diaspora around the world into a horn-blowing, flag-waving euphoria. Their jubilant cheers were echoed by Arabs all throughout the Middle East and beyond, whose Pan-Arab solidarity has flourished as a result of a string of surprising victories by Middle Eastern teams, even if it is frequently missing or subdued when it comes to political affairs.
Moroccans in Casablanca continued to celebrate till the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
"Congratulations to us," they said to one another with broad grins. The Maghreb is dead! They always say, "Always Morocco," which is the motto of Morocco's loyal supporters. On Wednesdays, their Parliament opens its meeting by singing the national song.
Casablanca-based communications expert and lifelong soccer fan Zoubida Boutaleb, 40, said, "My excitement is indescribable." I haven't come down from cloud nine yet!
Many Arabs and North Africans seemed united in one regionwide cheer at a time when their leaders were divided or listless on the causes that used to unite them the most. They share a language (if one is split into many dialects), a religion (in most cases), elements of proud history, and, often, a common sense of injustices perpetrated by the West.
As the Saudis, Tunisians, and hosts Qatar all lost in the round of 32, and the Moroccans were left to face the remaining teams on their own.
The Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, celebrated the team's victory on Tuesday night in Rabat by donning a red club shirt and waving the national flag. Even the emir of Qatar enjoyed it from the comfort of his VVVIP seat in the stadium. The Cairo Tower in Egypt was illuminated in red and green, while Iraq's most famous Shiite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, used the hashtag "Morocco hope for Arab triumph" in a tweet.
'The lions of the Atlas are the delight of the Arab world,' said the banner headline of Al-Ahram, Egypt's most widely read newspaper. Following the fall of the Spanish matador, Morocco became a historical player.
Many of the games featuring Arab teams have had political undertones or even been decided by political statements made by players or coaches. This is not surprising, given the nature of the event as the most watched in the world, where young men gather to speak for nations and causes.
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