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Morocco’s Atlas Lions receive a hero’s welcome back home

The national team made history at this year’s FIFA World Cup after beating elite teams from Belgium, Portugal and Spain.

The Morocco national soccer team has received a hero’s welcome on their return home after achieving the seemingly impossible feat of finishing fourth at the World Cup in Qatar.

After their plane landed on Tuesday, the players traveled in an open-top bus through the main avenues of the capital, Rabat. With flares, chants and flags, thousands of Moroccans came to greet the players, who injected new energy into African and Arab football.

Underdogs Morocco, known as Atlas Lions, won hearts with their never-give-up attitude and made history as one of the great success stories of this year’s tournament.

Morocco defeated elite teams, beating second-placed Belgium, shocking 2010 champions Spain in a penalty shootout in the round of 16, and continuing their impressive run with a 1-0 win against 2016 European champions Portugal , before stumbling against defending champions France. Along the way, Atlas Lions became the first African and Arab country to reach a World Cup semi-final.

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The record-breaking performance by the players earned them a special celebration from the fans, as police stood guard on the streets of Rabat. Huge crowds lined the streets and the rest of the North African kingdom for the return home.

Fans celebrate during a welcome parade for the Morocco national soccer team in downtown Rabat.
Fans celebrate during a welcome parade for the Morocco national soccer team in downtown Rabat. [Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP Photo]

Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Rabat, described an “ocean of red and green” greeting the national team.

“The people of Morocco are roaring to welcome the Atlas Lions. There is so much pride. I was in the crowd before and met people who came all the way from Holland to witness this moment. Children, families, women, grandparents who come here to witness this moment together,” Haque said.

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“There is such a level of communion that this team has brought to Morocco. As the bus slowly moves towards the king’s palace, you can see crowds of people running after the bus.”

The royal court said Monday that King Mohammed VI would receive the team at the Rabat palace “to celebrate their great and historic achievement.”

The team finished fourth in the competition after losing to Croatia 1-2 in the playoff for third place on Saturday, exceeding the expectations of most Moroccans.

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“This team has brought so much joy, not only to the people of Morocco, but also to Africans, the Arab world and millions of Moroccans living abroad. This team of 11 players, most of them with dual nationality. And it is a pride to be received like this by his country of origin”, said Haque.

The Moroccan team captivated many Arab football fans who saw the team as a reflection of themselves. The players waved the Palestinian flag after their victories and celebrated on the pitch with their mothers and children.

The team also galvanized support across Africa.

“If someone had told me before the tournament that we would play seven games in Qatar, we would have been happy,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui told BeIN Sports.

“All the Moroccan, African and Arab people have seen how this team struggled and wanted to make the country happy… We will try to return after four years,” added the 47-year-old coach, who only took office in August.

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