Doha, Qatar – The environment earlier than kick-off was electrical.
Followers of the Atlas Lions, as Morocco’s nationwide workforce are identified, had gathered early exterior the 44,000-capacity Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, hoping to expertise a historic upset.
There was a carnival-like environment with a DJ enjoying Arabic songs to get the group warmed up for the World Cup’s Group F conflict.
Morocco, ranked 22 within the FIFA standings, had been taking over the star-studded Crimson Devils of Belgium, one of many match favourites and ranked second on the planet.
“Nobody gave us an opportunity. Everybody mentioned Belgium will humiliate us. However we beat them,” Othmane Benjelloun mentioned, preventing again tears after Morocco shocked the Belgians 2-0.
“This can be a dream for us. We had been courageous and didn’t sit again. We believed in our workforce and our gamers felt our robust assist. What you see right here is historical past,” he added, tears lastly streaming down his cheeks.
The showdown was Morocco’s 18th World Cup match and their 14th in opposition to European opposition. The North Africans have gained two and drawn six of their final 11 World Cup group-stage matches in opposition to European nations.
The final World Cup Morocco gained was in opposition to Scotland in 1998.
The Belgium lineup was full of family names: Manchester Metropolis’s midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings in the midst of the pitch; Actual Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, the reigning winner of the Yashin trophy given to the best-ranked goalkeeper on the planet; and Courtois’s teammate Eden Hazard main the assault.
However that didn’t deter the hundreds of Atlas Lions followers clad in inexperienced and purple – or their workforce. They felt it was their second. They cheered, sang, and waved the blue-and-green nationwide flag with no break. The noise inside the sector was eardrum-splitting.
“Wonderful day. Our techniques had been spot. We attacked on the proper time and defended after we wanted to. We received them drained,” mentioned Adel Ez-Zaidi, who got here from Frankfurt in Germany to look at the match.
“All day you can really feel immediately shall be big day. We had been very optimistic even earlier than kick-off. This implies every thing to all of us. It is sort of a superb dream. You don’t need it to finish or get up from it,” he added earlier than speeding off to hitch fellow followers on the leisure zone exterior the stadium.
From the primary whistle, it was clear the Moroccan gamers had been up for the problem of overcoming one of many match’s most feared groups.
They flew into the tackles and closed down the Belgians at each alternative. Achraf Hakimi, the Paris Saint-Germain right-back, set the tone together with his lung-busting runs, his lengthy strides protecting each inch of the inexperienced turf as they sought to interrupt down the Belgian again line.
“These gamers, with their efficiency immediately, confirmed how a lot they care and the way a lot it means to play for our nation,” mentioned Hanan Rahho, who flew in from Neuss in Germany for the showpiece. “Hakimi was all over the place. With gamers like we will go far. Something is feasible. It is rather promising. I can’t be stunned if we win the World Cup.”
“It’s the finest feeling ever. We didn’t simply win however confirmed we deserved to win in opposition to an awesome workforce. I really feel like crying,” she added, placing her arms over her face.
It was not solely Moroccans who had been rooting for the Atlas Lions to beat Belgium. There have been loads of Tunisian, Palestinian, Saudi and Omani flags within the crowd cheering for the North Africans.
“It’s fantastic what they did. I’m very pleased with them. Nobody will ever overlook today. No single Arab will overlook,” mentioned Imad Azaizeh, a Palestinian who travelled from Dammam in Saudi Arabia to assist Morocco.
“They’re the darkish horse of the World Cup. They will obtain something they need and we’ll assist them it doesn’t matter what.”
Subsequent up for Morocco is Canada on Thursday, and the followers celebrating at Al Thumama Stadium can’t look ahead to the showdown.
“Canada won’t wish to face us after they see how we performed immediately. No workforce will wish to face us. We’re the lions from the Atlas Mountains,” Benjelloun mentioned, wiping the tears of pleasure.