Tens of thousands of Moroccans have thronged the capital to welcome home their national football team, the first Arab or African squad ever to reach the semi-final of a World Cup.
Fans packed squares and lined up along avenues and streets in and around Rabat on Tuesday, lighting flares, waving flags, dancing to the beat of drums and cheering as an open-top bus carrying the suit and tie-clad players rolled into the capital with heavy police escort.
“I’m so proud of our team. Who knows — maybe next time they could win the cup,” said Adam Najah, a 27-year-old waiter from the city of Meknes.
Smiling players and coach Walid Regragui waved, blew kisses to their ecstatic fans and snapped selfies against the backdrop of undulating crowds and swinging palm springs.
At some points along the parade route, the crowds spilled from sidewalks onto a four-lane highway carrying the bus.
Slowing down the vehicle as it travelled to the royal palace where King Mohammed VI was waiting to receive the players to “celebrate their great and historic accomplishment.”
Morocco finished top of a group including Croatia and Belgium, who came third at the 2018 World Cup, before knocking out Spain and Portugal to reach the last four.
The Atlas Lions lost Saturday’s third-place play-off 2-1 against 2018 runners-up Croatia but captured the imagination in Qatar.
“Morocco’s run in the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be remembered in the history books as one of the most exciting campaigns since the tournament’s inception,” café owner Reda Ghazi, 27, told The Associated Press.
“It was the dream of every Moroccan to win something, especially because Morocco is a country where the passion for football is overwhelming.”
“I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in this World Cup,” added student Anour El Berkaoui, 23. “The team has now set the bar so high that we won’t be happy with anything less than winning the upcoming African Cup of Nations.”
The Moroccan team charmed many Arab football fans who saw in the team a reflection of themselves.
Players waved the Palestinian flag after their wins and celebrated on the field with their mothers and children.
The team also galvanised support across Africa.
“As an African team, we broke a lot of records and made the whole continent proud,” Rabat resident Omar Zorgane said.
“Morocco as a whole will gain a lot from this year’s World Cup, from tourism to getting the attention of other countries to possibly hosting one of the biggest tournaments in the world in the future,” he said.