Doha, Qatar – Achraf Hakimi was on the spot. The Atlas Lions’s Spanish-born superstar wing back had the chance to send Morocco through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time ever.
So when, following the nerve-racking penalty shootout against Spain, Hakimi ever-so-easily kicked the ball into the net at Education City Stadium in Qatar, thousands of spectators collectively heaved a huge sigh of relief – and then they roared.
Safa, 39, said she “didn’t expect” Morocco to make it this far.
“We are so glad … the next game we will win 1-0 inshallah,” the Casablanca resident told Al Jazeera.
Safa, who was also at Morocco’s game against Canada on December 1, said the hype from the fans inside the stadium probably also had a “positive impact” on the players.
A cacophony of cheering, singing and drumming overtook the stadium as soon as the historic match began.
Reaching the quarter-finals was an unspeakable feat, adding to the successes of Arab teams Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, which beat Argentina and France, respectively, despite their eventual exit from the World Cup.
The wave of support in the stadium was deafening as Morocco became the first Arab nation and fourth African country to advance to the last eight of football’s greatest tournament.
‘We made history’
“It is a dream come true, I have no words to express my happiness,” Fadoua Chernane told Al Jazeera.
“They are our heroes, they made us proud today, no matter if we win the World Cup or not, we have made history today,” the 42-year-old said.
As the celebrations quickly spread across Doha, Arab fans took to Twitter to share pictures of Hakimi hugging and kissing his mother, who had been cheering him on from the bleachers.
— Abier (@abierkhatib) December 6, 2022
Hakimi’s personal story became a source of inspiration for some.
Meanwhile, the picture of the winning team unfurling a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations went viral.
— Muhammad Smiry (@MuhammadSmiry) December 6, 2022
Morocco’s players had also help up the flag – which has featured several times through the tournament – after their win against Canada last week.
Some pointed out that the presence of the Palestinian flag and the choruses to “Free Palestine” at the tournament proved that Arabs – unlike their rulers – remained supportive of the Palestinian cause.
A country that is a signatory to the Abraham accords – this is how the people feel https://t.co/DRBG5IUDk5
— Dana El Kurd دانا الكرد (@danaelkurd) December 1, 2022
An ESPN reporter noted that “Every North African and Middle East team has made sure that the Palestine issue is prominent at every game”.
Morocco celebrate their win against Spain with a Palestinian flag. Every North African and Middle East team has made sure that the Palestine issue is prominent at every game pic.twitter.com/ZJU2Dog9Ee
— Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) December 6, 2022
Celebrations across Arab world
Moroccans celebrating their team’s historic World Cup victory were joined by people across the Middle East and North Africa in what was seen as a win for the entire Arab world.
Morocco carrying the African continent, the Arab and the Muslim world 🇲🇦 pic.twitter.com/udZ0ykgfDp
— EMILY🇺🇸🇲🇦 (@CrewsmatMorocco) December 6, 2022
In Morocco’s capital Rabat, where fans had crowded into cafes hours before to watch the game, people jammed downtown roads leading to a square where supporters had celebrated after previous Moroccan victories, flags waving from their windows and horns furiously honking.
“It’s the first time I had this feeling!” said Fahd Belbachir, on his way to the city centre. “We’re so proud.”
Brahim Ait Belkhit said the spontaneous mood of joy was so great he had patched up a feud with somebody he had avoided for years and then saw in the street.
“It made us forget our old quarrel,” he said.
Leaders from across the Arab world showered praise on the Moroccan side.
“Congratulations to the Atlas Lions, you delighted us. Wow Morocco, you did it again!,” Queen Rania of Jordan wrote on Twitter.
— Rania Al Abdullah (@QueenRania) December 6, 2022
Cheers resounded from Tunis and Beirut to Baghdad, Ramallah and other cities as Arabs came together to rejoice at the largely unexpected win over Spain – a contrast to the political disputes that have long divided Arab states.