Dream of global final is over but Moroccans hailed heroes
Morocco players react at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup semi-final football match against France at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on December 14, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

CASABLANCA, Morocco (AFP) — They may have fallen just short of reaching the World Cup final, but Moroccans on Wednesday hailed their team's historic run as it ended with a 0-2 defeat to reigning champions France.

"They played a great game but luck wasn't on our side," said supporter Oussama Abdouh in Casablanca.

"Still, we stood up to the title holders, that was great.

"Beyond the World Cup, this team made us dream until the end, and just for that, I raise my hat to them."

But for Hakim Salama, the 0-2 defeat to France was too much.

"We missed the opportunity of the century," he said.

Rain lashed the capital Rabat on Wednesday evening and the atmosphere was far from the exhilaration of the historic victories that brought the Lions of the Atlas to within sight of a World Cup final — the first Arab or African team to ever get so far.

This time, the car horns and drummers were muted.

"The national team has been performing miracles since the start of the World Cup," Rachid Sabbiq, a street trader in the working-class Derb Sultan district of Casablanca, said before the match.

"It doesn't matter whether they win or lose — they've won the respect and admiration of all Moroccans, and that's priceless," he said.

Sabbiq had swapped his usual fare of sweets to sell Moroccan flags.

Despite the loss, ruler King Mohammed VI sent his "warm congratulations" to the whole team for having "honoured the Moroccan people", according to the country's national news agency MAP.

The king also conveyed a congratulatory message to French President Emmanuel Macron by telephone post-match, the news agency said.

One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Casablanca, Derb Sultan, was a bastion of resistance against colonial authorities when the North African kingdom was a French protectorate from 1912 until 1956.

It also gave rise to one of Morocco's top teams, Raja de Casablanca, and is the birthplace of legendary striker Mohamed "Houmane" Jarir, who in 1970 became the first Moroccan ever to score in the World Cup.

"In this neighbourhood we love football, so, of course, the national team's victories make us dream," said teenager Mohamed Nadifi, a teenager whose idol is winger Sofiane Boufal.

All over Morocco, shops have been selling team jerseys and flags.

"Not only have the Lions made us happy, but they also allowed us to get business going again," despite rough economic times for many Moroccans, said trader Khalid Alaoui.

Touria Matrougui braved cold and torrential rain to buy jerseys for her four nephews.

"They held the Moroccan flag high, and for that, we can never thank them enough," she said.

The team's success has also won it support far across the continent.

"Morocco has made an entire continent proud," said Sidibey Zoumana, from the Ivory Coast, who has lived in the country since 2018.

"I've been watching their progress as if it was my own country."

From Gaza to Senegal, the team's success has transformed the image of Morocco.

"They proved that an African team can go places and really compete," said Said Mouhssine, 48, after the match.

For others, the match had a taste of politics, coming in the middle of a diplomatic spat between Paris and Rabat over the ever-contentious Western Sahara issue.

Some fans were doubly disappointed as national carrier Royal Air Maroc was forced to cancel extra flights for fans to Qatar just hours after announcing them.

Other supporters who had already reached the Gulf State were unable to get tickets they had been promised.

Some accused staff at the Moroccan Football Federation of handing out the coveted passes to friends and families.

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