Cash-strapped Moroccans find joy in World Cup run

Morocco's players throw Morocco's coach Walid Regragui in the air as they celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 football match between Morocco and Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on December 6, 2022. PHOTO / AFP

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Morocco are the first African and Arab team ever to make the semi-finals of a World Cup, and their remarkable run has given residents of the North African kingdom a temporary distraction from their tough economic situation

Moroccan moped driver El Haj Mohamed is in high spirits as his country's top footballers gear up for a historic World Cup clash against France, a welcome break from daily economic pain.

"This team has let us forget everything, high prices and the rest. My mood has changed," he said as he took a break from making deliveries in a market in Sale, a city adjoining the capital Rabat.

Morocco are the first African and Arab team ever to make the semi-finals of a World Cup, and their remarkable run has given residents of the North African kingdom a temporary distraction from their tough economic situation.

King Mohammed VI even made a rare public appearance in the streets of Rabat after the team's surprise victory against Spain in the round of 16.

The tournament in Qatar comes after the back-to-back crises of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine sent inflation spiralling to eight percent, amid price hikes on fuel and food.

Morocco has returned "to 2014 levels of poverty and vulnerability", according to the government's High Commission for Planning (HCP).

The country's many farmers have also been hit hard by an acute drought -- but the arrival of rain just as the national team started chalking up victories has added to the new sense of hope.

Thami Halhouli, a 57-year-old moped delivery worker in Sale, said "thanks to God and the national team, everything's going to be alright."

Sale's long-neglected Souk Assalihine, which sits next to a working-class neighbourhood, has recently been renovated.

Trader Ayoub, who wore a red Morocco jersey, said he was "proud of what they've achieved", even if he can only dream of being in Qatar to see them play.

"It's great to see them bring happiness to Arabs and Africans," he said.

Better-off Moroccans have paid around 450 euros ($480) for return flights to Qatar.

Fighting spirit

"The Moroccan public knows how to appreciate football," said Rachid Samouki, 30, who practices athletics at the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) club in Rabat.

"They like this team because it gets results, but also because we have seen the fighting spirit that (coach Walid) Regragui instilled in them."

Journalist and sports sociology researcher Hicham Ramram said Moroccans had drawn pride from "the feeling of belonging to the winning side".

"All Moroccans identify with Regragui" and other players, he said.

"Sport, and football in particular, is the only area in which you can beat countries that are more powerful economically or militarily," he added, pointing out the joy that Morocco's victories had brought to Somalis, Syrians and Palestinians.

In Morocco, pro-Palestinian activists have been delighted to see Moroccan players bearing Palestinian flags on the pitch.

But for others, there is plenty of joy in the sport itself.

"We follow the national team simply because we enjoy seeing them play", said Mounir, 31, a fabric seller in Sale.

"We're going to celebrate even if we don't win the semi-final."


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