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Morocco take over a World Cup that should always have been theirs

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Morocco at last have their World Cup. The country that has spent so long trying to host the competition have probably gone one better and made themselves the story of this one.

It was a quite beautiful thing at Education City, that bore witness to a nation-making moment. That was what was most of all symbolised by the victorious Moroccan players bowing in front of their exuberant supporters, a moment of communion.

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

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

Staging this World Cup in Qatar makes it probably the most problematic ever, and it should never have been here. The first hosts in this region should have been Morocco, given their football culture, given how long they wanted it.

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

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

Note the names. Because it is not just Morocco coming together. So is the region.

That could be heard in Sofiane Boufal’s comments.

“Thanks to all the Moroccans all over the world for their support, to all Arab people, to all Muslim people,” the forward said. “This win belongs to you.”

It is something they have long desired, and fully deserve. King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, spoke of how they “blazed a trail”.

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

All of the squads have made such a distinctive point of it, to ensure it is seen all over the world, with that linked to ongoing story of how many Israeli media have encountered hostility in Qatar.

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

It is obvious that both should be allowed. It is just another complicated subject that is inherent to this World Cup, and makes the staging inherent to the beauty of Morocco’s win.

Regragui went even deeper, or perhaps more focused.

“I am not here to be a politician,” he said. “We want to fly Africa’s flag 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 football point there, that reflects a much wider context. Given that this World Cup – especially through Gianni Infantino – has articulated a growing split in the sport between the west and the global south, it is fitting that the traditional powers are also split; that Africa and the region has that representation.

Had Spain gone through, after all, it would have meant six European teams and two South American in the quarter-final. That is the most common quarter-final split and would have just shown the old order re-asserting itself despite this supposedly being about a new era. No more.

It is a very good thing that Morocco have got through. One thing that Infantino is correct about is that more of the game’s immense wealth needs to be spread beyond western Europe, so these rich football cultures can improve, and that is greatly aided by success such as this.

While that success is made more unlikely by these economic inequalities, it wasn’t exactly like Morocco defied the odds here. This was a 50-50 game, as made clear by the scoreline. Morocco were full value for the eventual win.

There can similarly be a sense with surprise teams that they aren’t that much value to a stage as late as the quarter-finals because they run out of steam, or they have got that far partly by chance. There is none of that with Morocco. They have announced themselves as one of the most adept teams at this World Cup. Nobody is going to want to play them. Nobody is going to break them down easily.

That was something that was so notable about this performance against Spain. Just at the sort of stage when Spanish passing should have been tiring them, should have been seeing gaps appear, none of that happened. Regragui’s defensive structure stayed in shape. And, in the brief moments when a break in the collective did appear, individuals went above and beyond to shore it all up. Sofyan Amrabat and Romain Saiss, in particular, were immense.

They in turn fostered an atmosphere that was incredible, something truly distinctive in this World Cup. It is a football culture that has been too easily overlooked amid the domination of western Europe and the Champions League. This was the best possible illustration of it, right down to how Spanish possession was whistled before Moroccan recoveries and attacks were roared. It naturally got even better at the moment of Achraf Hakimi’s suitably impudent chip.

The sound was unlike anything heard in this World Cup in terms of how loud it was.

Morocco, in so many senses, are unlike any other team left in this World Cup. They are from a different region and enjoying progress in a different way. Every one of the other quarter-finalists has been at this stage before. This is a novelty for Morocco, but they are not naive about it.

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

#Morocco #World #Cup

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