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Arab world erupts in ecstasy over Atlas Lions book semi-final spot

Morocco’s World Cup fairy tale continues to enchant soccer lovers after the Atlas Lions beat Portugal 1-0 to book their place in the semi-finals of the tournament.

In the Arab world, Saturday’s victory felt particularly sweet, with Morocco’s progression marking the first time an Arab or African country has reached the quarterfinals in 92-year World Cup history.

Casablanca, a port city in western Morocco, witnessed scenes of jubilation as people took to the streets to celebrate their country’s remarkable victory against all odds.

“It is absolutely electric. People here have been dancing, celebrating and it will continue into the night,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque said, reporting from Casablanca.

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While thousands of Moroccan fans have traveled to Qatar to cheer on the Atlas Lions, other fans have made the trip in reverse, eager to feel the effervescent atmosphere gripping the North African country, he added.

“Two families flew from Saudi Arabia, another from Qatar to be here in Morocco and to be among the Moroccans to experience this moment,” Haque said.

“And a lot more people will want to come now to see the story in the making.”

Adnane Bennis, managing director of Morocco’s English-language news website World News, said there were “no words” to fully express what Morocco’s victory over Portugal meant for the country, Africa and the wider Arab region.

“It’s huge for us. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that we qualified for the semi-finals,” Bennis told Al Jazeera from Rabat, the Moroccan capital.

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“We are not going to sleep tonight,” he added, saying Moroccans both at home and abroad would be busy celebrating their victory until dawn.

“This is a great victory for Morocco, a historic victory, and it did not come out of nowhere. We believed in ourselves, we believed in our team… The dream lives on, the journey continues and now we are two wins away from winning the World Cup.”

Joy in Gaza

There were similar outpourings of joy throughout the region.

In the besieged Gaza Strip, the largest sports hall in the coastal enclave was packed with thousands of people cheering on Morocco.

Reporting from the venue, Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed said those gathered saw the historic result as a victory for “all Arab nations.”

“They yelled, they clapped, they beat drums, they sang. And then with the final whistle, thousands took to the streets to start their celebrations and show their support, joy and happiness to Morocco,” he said.

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“Dozens of fans we spoke to tonight told us how important this game was to them,” ElSayed added.

In Qatar, which will host the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East, Morocco fans said their greatest hopes and dreams had been surpassed by the Atlas Lions’ spellbinding journey to the quarter-finals, where they will face England. or France. on December 14.

“This was a great game. [coach] Walid Regragui’s side were very tactical and the whole team showed their quality,” fan Abdul Aziz told Al Jazeera from Doha’s Souq Waqif, where fans who had been unable to get a ticket for the show at Al Thumama Stadium they gathered to watch the game on television.

“They played two different games in the two halves, the first half was one they wanted to win by at least one goal, and the second half was a very tactical display,” he added. “And they deserved to win.”

‘symbolic’ victory

Morocco’s clean sheet capped a resolute defensive performance in Qatar, which has now seen them play more than seven hours of football without conceding a goal to an opposing player.

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Hussein, a Bahraini national, said he was overwhelmed with pride after the result.

“I am very happy, this is the first time that the World Cup is in an Arab country, and now we have an Arab team reaching the semi-finals for the first time,” he told Al Jazeera in Souq Waqif. “I am very proud of this. It’s amazing.”

Supporters in the Iraqi capital Baghdad also welcomed Morocco’s victory, which was sealed by Youssef En Nesyri’s decisive header in the 42nd minute.

“People here are celebrating and they will continue to celebrate into the night,” Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said, reporting from Baghdad.

“They say that this victory is so symbolic because it is not only for Morocco but for the entire African continent, the entire Arab world and the entire Middle East region,” he added.

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“People are very excited… They say the feeling today is like Iraq won this game.”

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