All of Africa and the Arabian region seem to agree - all for the lions of the Atlas. Before the World Cup quarter-finals between Morocco and Portugal, many millions of people are rooting for the underdog who is being co-opted by all sides.
Coach Walid Regragui's selection is the first African team ever to reach the semi-finals at a World Cup on Saturday (4:00 p.m. CET/ZDF and MagentaTV) in the Al-Thumama Stadium. A former World Cup hero of the country has more confidence in Morocco.
"Fighting for our homeland"
"What we are experiencing today is historic - being one of the top eight teams here. I think they can make it to the final. Our players are fighting for our homeland," said Abderrazak Khairi of the German Press Agency. The 60-year-old scored twice in the 3-1 win against Portugal in the group stage game in Mexico 1986. In the round of 16, Morocco lost 1-0 to Germany through a late goal by Lothar Matthäus.
"I was a kid then. The players from 1986 were our heroes, we all wanted to be like them. Maybe now we'll let the kids dream of Morocco and one day they'll play for our country," said the celebrated coach Regragui, who became the first African coach to reach a World Cup quarter-finals. "Morocco has the backing of many people to create history."
The term "historic" is used quite often in connection with Morocco these days. Roger Milla once celebrated his goals as an oldie at the 1990 World Cup by swinging his hips at the corner flag, he was in the quarter-finals with Cameroon. "The story goes on..." Milla tweeted these days and showed a photo montage with himself, with Papa Bouba Diob, who was in the World Cup quarter-finals with Senegal in 2002, with Asamoah Gyan (Ghana 2010) - and with Morocco's Hakim Ziyech in the foreground.
The professional from Chelsea FC, the ex-Dortmunder Achraf Hakimi from Paris Saint-Germain, Noussair Mazraoui from FC Bayern Munich and goalkeeper Bono from FC Sevilla, the penalty-taker from the round of 16 victory against Spain - these are the well-known players of the quarter-finalists. And of course Abdelhamid Sabiri, 26, who used to play for 1. FC Nuremberg and SC Paderborn and is now under contract with Sampdoria Genoa.
Only one goal
Morocco have conceded just one goal in the tournament, beating Canada 2-1 - and that was also an own goal. Will the team make it to the semifinals? "It's about time that happened," Sabiri said in an interview with La Repubblica. The team has 14 players who were not born in Morocco. "That doesn't change anything. Your culture is what your parents teach you. Mine is Morocco, that's why I'm here," explained the 26-year-old. He came to Germany at the age of three and started playing for TSG Frankfurter Berg.
"Our hearts are Moroccan, we've all learned that," said his French-born coach Regragui. After the coup against Spain, his team was celebrated not only at motorcades in Doha and many cities around the world, but especially at home. King Mohammed VI also retired there. from Morocco put on a jersey and let himself be driven through the crowds in the capital Rabat. In Casablanca, a few special machines with fans will climb to Doha this Friday and Saturday.
At the beginning of the tournament, Regragui saw his team as a purely African team. Nigeria 1994, Ghana 2010 - those were his benchmarks. In the meantime, he gratefully accepts the support of the entire Arab world, to which Morocco also belongs in terms of language alone. Regragui was "very happy that we can bring joy to the people of Morocco, the Arabs and the Africans". There were also horn concerts in Tunisia, Morocco's footballers were celebrated in Egypt, and in more distant Lebanon people sang: "God bless Morocco and our only Arab team."
Even from neighboring Algeria, with which Morocco's relations are strained, there was congratulations after the victory against Spain. "Congratulations brothers, the Maghreb is proud of you," wrote Algerian football star Ismaël Bennacer of AC Milan. However, the media was noticeably reticent with their reporting. Both countries are at odds over the status of neighboring Western Sahara.
The possible lineups:
The expected lineups:
Marokko: 1 Bono - 2 Hakimi, 5 Aguerd, 6 Saiss, 3 Mazraoui - 4 Amrabat - 8 Ounahi, 11 Sabiri - 7 Ziyech, 17 Boufal - 19 En-Nesyri
Portugal: 22 Costa - 2 Dalot, 3 Pepe, 4 Dias, 5 Guerreiro – 10 B. Silva, 14 Carvalho, 25 Otávio - 8 Fernandes, 26 Ramos, 11 João Félix
Referee: Facundo Tello (Argentina)