Morocco grab a World Cup that should always have been theirs

Morocco finally has its World Cup. The country that has spent so long trying to host the competition has probably done better and made history out of it.

It was a very beautiful thing in Education City, which testified to a nation-building moment. This was especially symbolized by the victorious Moroccan players bowing to their exuberant supporters, a moment of communion.

“When you have heart, energy and love, you win games,” said head coach Walid Regragui.

And yet, there is a complicated truth to Morocco’s sheer joy of the moment.

Hosting this World Cup in Qatar probably makes it the most problematic of all time, and it should never have been here. The first hosts in this region should have been Morocco, given their football culture, given the time they wanted.

And yet geography is part of the history that is being made.

The Emir of Qatar was at the game and waved the Moroccan flag. He was joined in congratulating Qatar by Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, Queen Rania Al Abdullah from Jordan and the deputy from Sudan. the head of the ruling council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Note the names. Because it’s not just Morocco that comes together. The region too.

This could be heard in the words of Sofiane Boufal.

“Thank you to all Moroccans around the world for their support, to all Arab people, to all Muslims,” ​​the striker said. “This victory is yours.”

It is something they have long wanted and fully deserve. The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, told how they “opened the way”.

This regional unity could also be seen, in a moment of even deeper significance, on the pitch after the game. There, Morocco followed all the other Arab countries in the World Cup by raising the Palestinian flag.

All the teams have made it such a distinctive point, to make sure it is seen all over the world, with it tied to the ongoing story of how many Israeli media outlets have encountered hostility in Qatar.

There’s an awful lot in there, especially given the tensions between some Middle Eastern and North African countries themselves. There is also a broader discussion to be had about how the Palestinian flag has been so visible, in a World Cup that Fifa and Qatar insist is apolitical, when there have been such concerted attempts to remove the rainbow flag.

Obviously both should be allowed. It’s just another complicated subject that is inherent in this World Cup, and makes the showmanship inherent in the beauty of Morocco’s victory.

Regragui went even further, or perhaps more focused.

“I’m not here to play politics,” he said. “We want to hoist the flag of Africa high, just like Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon. We are here to represent Africa.

Morocco celebrated a famous win over Spain (AFP via Getty Images)

There is an important footballing point here, which reflects a much broader context. Given that this World Cup – particularly through Gianni Infantino – has articulated a growing divide in sport between the global west and global south, it is fitting that traditional powers are also divided; that Africa and the region have this representation.

If Spain had gone through, after all, that would have meant six European and two South American teams in the quarter-finals. This is the most common quarter-final split and it would have just shown the old order reasserting itself when it was supposedly a new era. No more.

It is a very good thing that Morocco has gone through. One thing Infantino is right about is that more of the immense wealth of the game needs to be spread beyond Western Europe, so that these rich footballing cultures can improve, and that is greatly helped. with a success like this.

While that success is made more unlikely by these economic inequalities, it’s not exactly as if Morocco is defying the odds here. It was a 50-50 match, as the scoreline clearly shows. Morocco was fully worth the final victory.

Similarly, upset teams may feel like they’re not worth much for such a late stage as the quarter-finals because they’ve run out of steam or gotten this far by chance. None of this with Morocco. They have announced themselves as one of the most skilful teams in this World Cup. No one will want to play them. No one is going to break them easily.

It was something that was so remarkable in that performance against Spain. Just when the Spanish overtaking should have tired them, should have seen gaps appear, none of that happened. Regragui’s defensive structure remained in good shape. And, in the brief moments when a rift in the collective appeared, individuals went above and beyond to consolidate everything. Sofyan Amrabat and Romain Saiss, in particular, were immense.

They in turn created an incredible atmosphere, something really special in this World Cup. It’s a footballing culture that has been too easily ignored amid Western European and Champions League dominance. It was the best possible illustration of this, down to the way in which Spanish possession was whistled before the Moroccan recoveries and attacks sounded. It naturally got even better at the time of Achraf Hakimi’s suitably impudent chip.

The sound was unlike anything heard at this World Cup in terms of volume.

Morocco, in many ways, is unlike any other team left in this World Cup. They come from a different region and benefit from progress in a different way. Each of the other quarter-finalists has already been to this stage. This is new for Morocco, but they are not naive about it.

They took over a World Cup that should always have been theirs.

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