DOHA, Qatar (AP)Moroccans in Qatar are feeling the love from across the Arab world ahead of their country’s World Cup clash with Spain on Tuesday.
After their own teams were eliminated from the first World Cup in the Middle East, many Qatari, Saudi and Tunisians fans in Doha are now rallying behind Morocco – the last Arab team left in the tournament.
At Marrakech, a Moroccan restaurant in Doha, some employees were moved by the outpouring of support. Some even dared to dream big for the national team.
”All Arab countries felt the joy for us and helped us feel the joy,” Yassin al- Youssfi, said as he poured Moroccan tea wearing the team’s bright red shirt. ”I hope this feeling lasts when we hold up the cup. It will be held by Moroccan hands.”
The Atlas Lions clinched first place in Group F ahead of 2018 finalist Croatia and semifinalist Belgium, reaching the round of 16 in a World Cup for the first time since 1986. One more victory for Morocco would mean the country’s first trip to the quarterfinals.
Morocco’s success caused an outpouring of joy in the Arab world. Celebrations spread from Gaza City to Cairo. In Doha, the Moroccan community felt at home.
”In any place in Qatar, you’d find people congratulating you and cheering for you,” said Naouel Farih, chef at the Marrakech restaurant. ”It gives a person so much pride and happiness that the Moroccan team reached the last 16.”
Fans draped in Morocco’s national flag gathered in Doha’s Souq Waqif bazaar on Sunday and danced late into the night in an impromptu street party. Some chanted in Arabic: ”Congratulations to us on this beginning! It will go on and on!”
”I feel like I am in Morocco!” said Ibrahim Boutahar, a Moroccan fan who lives in Doha and joined the dancing, chanting and ululating crowd. ”The vibe is Moroccan, the music … the rituals.”
The support from other Arab and African countries has been welcomed also by fans watching the World Cup from home in Morocco.
Kadr Ighiri, a 51-year-old working in human resources in Casablanca, said he believes that backing has provided a boost for the team and will help it against Spain on Tuesday.
The Moroccan players ”feel like they are playing at home,” Ighiri said. ”That is key.”
Associated Press journalists Lujain Jo in Doha and Tarik El-Barakah in Rabat, Morocco, contributed to this report.