Moroccan fans are driving the national team and the players and coach acknowledge that


Coaches are usually expected to orchestrate players on the pitch in their pursuit of victory. However, the situation was a bit different at the Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier on Thursday night.

Walid Regragui led his team’s charge as they celebrated in front of a packed stadium sometime around midnight. This time, the Moroccan coach was orchestrating the fans as his fist pumps were in sync with loud cheers of “Si, si, si”.

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And why not?

Regragui’s team had just beaten Brazil in a friendly game and in the process became only the second side ranked outside FIFA’s top 10 to beat Selecao in the last six and half years.

The celebrations, in the end, were nostalgic – once again reminding the fans of a successful experience in Qatar three months prior.

Morocco became the first African and Arab country to reach the last four of the World Cup. A feat Regragui acknowledged wouldn’t have been possible if not for their fans who outnumbered every opponent during the fairytale run.

In their first game after making history in Qatar, Morocco were scheduled to host five-time World Cup winners Brazil. Days before the game, streets were filled with fans wearing the national team colours signifying a sense of anticipation.

All through Casablanca, you could see mural displays of the national team and fans just couldn’t wait to have a feel of their heroes once again.

On the day of the match, there was barely any space to walk in train stations. Buses were full and streets were crammed with people.

The match was at 10 pm local time in Tangiers and by 5 pm there was traffic everywhere. After 6 pm, the traffic jam from the stadium to all connecting roads could stretch to more than 5km. Most fans knew the hack and rather preferred to walk painting the streets red and green.

It was their big night.

In the stadium, more than 40,000 fans were seated over two hours to kick off. Fans were eager to see the players come out but whilst they waited, the stadium DJ entertained them with some thrilling Moroccan music and international hits such as Calm Down (Selena Gomez ft Rema) and Love Nwantiti (CKay).

The Moroccan Ultras sat opposite the media and VIP stands and they set the tone for the night. They led the chants and the occasional Mexican wave which could last minutes.

The Brazil team came out for the warm-up and were met with the loudest jeer of their lives. It was like 65,000 whistles being blown at the same time. But the thing is, most of the Brazilian players are top-class and are used to this. Vinicius Jnr was one of the last players to appear for warmup and amidst the jeers successfully attempted a rabona pass the moment he got onto the pitch.

A few minutes later, Morocco stepped out to warm up and were met with the loudest cheer of the night so far. In a rather peculiar turn of events, the Moroccan players performed a lap of honour jogging across the pitch to applaud fans – and in the process trespassing on Brazil’s territory off the pitch. Perhaps, it was a psychological reminder that this was their home.

But it didn’t take long for the Moroccan fans to better the loudest cheer of the night. The 65,000 fans sang the national team with so much passion and right after it ended the ultras took over. Red fire Flares were all over with cardboard held to form a big writing of Morocco.

Since 2011, Moroccans have found new hope inside football stadiums, a place where they can express their frustration and social change needs.

The songs of the Moroccan Ultras have since transitioned from simple songs to support teams at spontaneous moments to a mouthpiece for discontented youth to express their social demands.

But on Saturday, the message was different. Right below the big inscription of Morocco was “is leading the African football”. Their pursuits in Qatar had made the ambassadors for the continent and all they were minutes away from facing one of South America’s best. On the right side of the ultras was a tifo of a lion showing that they were ready to roar.

The first passage of play was met with “Ole” chants whenever a Moroccan player passed to their teammate. As expected, every touch from a Brazilian was met with piercing sounds of jeers.

Whenever the ultras notice a slight drop in the intensity of the atmosphere, they charge it up by using a large drum to conduct a clapping choir, uniting them in their pursuit to help their team stay in the game.

Players and technical team members took turns in charging up the crowd and just when it looked like Morocco would have to settle for a stalemate, they were once again pushed to victory by the fans.

Before the game, Regragui said the fans at the Ibn Batouta Stadium will be their 12th man. That’s exactly what the former Wydad AC coach got.

After the game, the players and technical bench stayed on the pitch to thank the fans and celebrate with them. Azzedine Ounahi who picked up a knock and was walking in crutches still had time for pictures and autographs with the fans.

A number of players threw their jerseys into the crowd as a sign of appreciation. After the players left for the dressing room, the gates were open for fans to have a feel of the inner perimeter of the stadium.

The Moroccan fan is prioritized because there’s a general acceptance they’re part of the team. In the space of three months, Morocco have finished fourth at a World Cup and beaten the number one ranked team Brazil.

The Atlas Lions are flying high and in case you’re looking for the pilot, just take a look at their fans.

Owuraku Ampofo – Tangier, Morocco


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