The oh-so-close June 25 match between Spain and Morocco proved to be Atlas Lions’ last performance in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, but it captivated audiences across Morocco all the same.
By Anna Schaeffer and Emily Hodge
Rabat – Streets emptied in Rabat as locals gathered around any available screen broadcasting the nailbiter match. Usually bursting with hustle and bustle, this intersection boasted only one motorbike driver.
All along the medina’s once-crowded avenues stood throngs of fans, attention fixed on Morocco’s forward Khalid Boutaib after a beautiful first goal of the game. In a local gym, every athlete yelled at the moment Morocco scored, weights and jump ropes laying forgotten on the floor.
Indoor and outdoor segments of this Rabat cafe have, respectively, better vantage points of specific television screens. An observer in the open-air patio focuses on the ball’s movement towards Spain’s goalie. The indoor crowd collectively gasps as Morocco’s forward Youssef En-Nesyri approaches the goal and…scores!
A moment of joy as the crowd reacts to En-Nesyri’s “goooaalllll!”
The stress and anticipation of football tie together Moroccan fans like family blood; as young men walk the medina (the market in the walled city), the game captivates and draws strangers into one collective body.
Other shops, namely those lacking television screens, sit vacated. This shop’s owner abandoned his place in search of a glimpse at Morocco’s final World Cup game.
The face of frustration after a well-placed kick by Spain. Emotions rose and fell with gusto as men in this restaurant physically turned their bodies away from the match during painful moments, only to return with greater hope a moment later. Loyalty to the team prevented them from spending longer than a few seconds gazing anywhere but at the screen.
It was a bitter end to an exactingly close match. The referee’s use of the video assistant referee (VAR) awarded a late goal to Spain, and fans across Rabat shook heads and shook hands before entering into lively conversation, reliving the high points of the match.
Said a young fan who shares his first name with Moroccan football star Mehdi Benatia, “I’m proud of us. I’m proud of Morocco.”