Doha, Qatar – The sighs of relief were drowned out by sheer ecstasy and delirium inside Al Thumama Stadium when Morocco narrowly edged out Canada in their last group match.
It was not just a win but Morocco’s progress to the last 16 of a World Cup, only the second time the team has achieved in six attempts.
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A draw against Croatia, a win against second-ranked Belgium and a defeat of Canada had Moroccans – in Qatar and around the world – dreaming again. But how much longer can they continue dreaming?
Can the team beat Spain on Tuesday and do what it has never done before – reach a football World Cup quarter-final?
“This team is making the hearts of all Moroccans beat as one. The pride, excitement – and fear – this is something we’ve not seen since 1986,” Yasmina Bennani, a Moroccan supporter in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.
No member of the current squad was born in 1986 when Morocco last reached the last 16.
“To go past the first round was the first football joy for the young generation and it’s beautiful because what’s happening on the pitch is bringing together children of the Moroccan diaspora, born all over Europe.”
For Boutaina Essadiki, the team’s performance has been a shining light not only for Moroccans but all Arab football fans.
“The win [over Spain] will be a victory for all Arab teams,” Essadiki said.
“I’m so proud to be a Moroccan right now. And given the situation, even if I wasn’t a Moroccan I’d like to be one to join in and celebrate.
“The team has honoured us by playing amazing football.”
Horia el-Hadad said she was not into football before the start of the World Cup.
“The fact that it’s taking place in an Arab country for the first time, where I live, has been extra meaningful for me, especially since Morocco is now the last remaining Arab team,” she said.
“I feel like the whole Arab world is behind the Moroccan team and the unity has been really heartwarming to see.
“If they manage to beat Spain, this will be a win for the Arab and African world.”
Ibtisam Amzil, who works in Qatar’s capital Doha, said she will “support the team till the end” no matter the result.
“I’m just so happy with the team, I’m supporting them all the way to the end, just like all the Arab people,” Amzil said.“God willing, we will beat Spain and move forward and fulfil the dreams of all Moroccans.”
Prior to the start of the tournament, Jordan’s coach Adnan Hamad had labelled Morocco as the “dark horse of the tournament”.
“The Moroccan team is considered the best Arab team playing in the Qatar World Cup. It has 20 professional players from major European leagues. In the qualifiers, it passed with flying colours and has a major chance of progressing from the group,” Hamad, who hails from Iraq, had told Al Jazeera.
“I believe that the Moroccan team has the best set of players, and the opportunity is in their hands to be the dark horse of the tournament.”
Former world champions Spain are ranked seventh in the world, while Morocco sit 15 places below at 22.
The gap in rankings, and titles, will not count for much when the two sides meet at Education City Stadium, according to Kawtar Ghfir, a Moroccan citizen based in Dubai.
“I hope that my team will win because they not only have the potential and professionalism from the players and the coach but also know very well how eager and thirsty the Moroccans are for a win,” she said.
“Spain is a strong team but that does not mean we’re weak. We will win.
“And that win will mean a lot to us because the country is in love with football, even more so now after watching the team do so well.”
The odds will be stacked against Morocco when the teams line up for the national anthems on Tuesday. Moroccans will hope the national anthem is not played for the last time at World Cup 2022.
“As Moroccans, we typically feel utmost patriotism and pride when we hear our national anthem resound in a crowded football stadium,” said Ismail Chokhman.
“This World Cup has been quite special, where not only more than 40,000 fans were singing along with pride but also the crowd from other Arab nations supporting the same Moroccan team.
“I have witnessed Moroccan fans bursting in tears of joy after the first and second goals [against Belgium] and strangers hugging and kissing each other as if they always knew one another.”