Morocco have become Arab’s last hope in the World Cup after the Atlas Lions beat Canada 2-1, advancing to the round of 16 for the first time since the 1986 World Cup.
Hakim Ziyech kicked off the show on Thursday after scoring Morocco’s first goal in the 4th minute after a mistake from Canada’s goalkeeper before Youssef En-Nesyri scored the second goal to give Morocco a 2-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
Nayef Aguerd scored an own goal in the 40th minute to make it 2-1, but both teams remained in a stalemate in the second half.
Celebrations across Arab world
The win triggered an outpouring of joy in the Arab world, where local teams are often underdogs.
There were celebrations in besieged Gaza and Cairo. A similar rush of regional goodwill followed Saudi Arabia’s shock win against two-time World Cup winner Argentina last week.
Jubilant Moroccans, Qataris, Saudis, Palestinians and others poured through historic alleys of Souq Waqif in central Doha after Morocco’s win, clad in red and green and waving the Moroccan flag wildly in celebration.
The flag illuminated skyscrapers along Doha’s glittering corniche.
Streaming crowds chanted, “Congratulations to us on this beginning! It will go on and on!” The metro near Al Thumama Stadium became a pulsing dance party of Moroccans drumming on the windows and ululating in celebration.
“All the Arabs left the tournament, but we made it up for them and we got our revenge,” said Najwa Boumahraz, a Moroccan living in London.
Arabs have also backed Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in the face of harsh Western criticism.
Arabs see no borders
Malika Jellal, a businesswoman from Casablanca, Morocco, said she felt like a celebrity on Thursday.
“Arabs keep coming up to me and saying ‘thank you, you honoured us, you saved us all,'” she said.
A pair of Saudi brothers who had flown to Doha to see the match from the eastern province of Dammam said they were so proud of Morocco that they practically forgot their sorrow that their own team was headed home.
“Over this week we feel that as Arabs, we are all one people,” said 23-year-old Saudi Turki al-Qahtani, draped in a Moroccan flag.
“We forget about borders in this World Cup.”
‘Change of mindset’
Regragui said his team’s performance in the first phase was down to a determination to “change the mindset” of Morocco’s national team, who had not advanced to the knockout rounds since the 1986 finals prior to arriving in Qatar.
“We set ourselves an objective — we said we wanted to give everything we’ve got and get out of the group stages. We can tick that box now,” Regragui said.
“So why not aim for the sky? We needed to change and we needed to change our mentality. We’re not going to stop here. We’re going to respect every opponent. But we are going to be very difficult opponents. So why not dream about lifting that trophy?”
Morocco will face Spain, which finished in second place in Group E after losing to Japan, in the round of 16.
The Moroccan team now has a total of 4 goals and conceded one in the tournament.