Moroccan football fans were gathering with friends and family on Saturday to watch their team’s World Cup quarterfinal against Portugal, holding the torch as the last African or Arab country left in the tournament.
Ranked 22nd in the world by Fifa, Morocco has already beaten high-ranking Belgium and Spain in a tournament marked by upsets, causing wild celebrations by its fans.
Najlaa El Kouni was rushing through the Rabat rain to join her friends to watch the game together at their house, but plans to head into the city centre afterwards no matter the result. “We will join the crowds,” she said.
Hundreds of Moroccan fans have flown into Doha for the match after Royal Air Maroc laid on seven extra flights, joining a large contingent already present in Qatar, where many Moroccans live and work. Fans were queuing for stadium access hours before the game.
With the Qatar World Cup the first to be held in an Arab country, Morocco has backed by fans from Iraq to Algeria who cheered its progress into the knockout stages.
It is also the last African team in the tournament and would become the first from the continent to reach a World Cup semifinal if it can get past Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
“As an African it’s a great joy to see them march forward despite the turbulent waters,” said Angabu Noel Umeikai, 31, a social media analyst in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde.
“I strongly believe Morocco will outclass Portugal today,” he added.
In Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, Basile Djehi was drinking with friends and planned to watch the game with them later.
“We all support Morocco. This is Africa’s only hope,” said the 32-year old pastry chef.
On the streets of Rabat, many young people were defying the cool, wet weather to wear Morocco’s red team shirt instead of raincoats, with some looking for spots in cafes or restaurants where they could watch the game.
Most prime viewing spots seemed to have been taken hours before kickoff, with many cafes removing tables to make more space for chairs where people could sit and watch and outside cars swept past with Moroccan flags.
In Marrakech tens of thousands of people are expected to watch at the fan zone in the historic Jmaa al-Fnaa square – a UNESCO world heritage site – and in Casablanca many fans will watch on a big screen at a stadium.
“Today we are watching the game as a big family as my parents and brothers will join us,” said Hicham Laasri, a driver who lives in Sala Al Jadida, 15km from Rabat, adding that they planned to enjoy tea and cake together as they watched.