Where could be better to watch Morocco play in the World Cup quarter finals than in Marrakech’s iconic main square: Jema El Fna.
I drove the hour and a half down from Imlil and parked right at the edge of the town, praying that it would be necessary because the roads would be mobbed and immobilised by thousands of joyous fans following a win for Morocco.
World Cup frenzy
It took me nearly an hour to walk to the square. A caleche passed me with two young men: one flying a Palestinian flag, one flying a Moroccan flag. ‘Do you want a lift?’ the driver shouted when he spotted my flag, peeking modestly out of my bag.
The crowd thickened as I got to the square. It was full of Morocco’s red. I have a reservation about big crowds in enclosed spaces and – just in case – I plotted an exit route and scanned all the faces around me. Three young girls were right beside me and I immediately made friends with them simply by smiling and saying, ‘Dima Maghreb. Morocco forever.’
The national anthem played and we all sang along. My efforts were loud rather than accurate. Aman, Soukaina and Ibtisam, my new friends and I, clutched each other’s hands and we were off.
It is like being in a boat on a stormy sea. Waves of emotion break over us. When Morocco has possession, the crowd surges with hope, swaying up and forward, only to fall back on their heels when the ball is recaptured by Portugal.
I begin to hate the European man with a man bun standing in front of me for being tall and blocking my view. Then, he takes off his jumper and his Tshirt rides up exposing a muscled, tanned back. Gasps of shock from the girls and titillated giggles. He is totally unaware of the effect he has just had.
Tears and Fears
Suddenly, there’s a flurry at the Portuguese end. Youssef En-Nesyri gets to the ball before Diogo Costa with an almighty leap and heads it home. Gooooooooaaaallll, goooooooaaaaallll, goooaalllll. Everyone jumps up and down. The flags wave in a volcano of red. Aman has tears in her eyes and is shaking. ‘Al Hamdullilah, Thanks be to God.’ We are all buzzing with excitement like a million bees.
The second half ramps up the tension. We’re ahead, we have to stay there. But all the play is at the Moroccan end. Ronaldo’s face appears on the big screen and a low thrum starts from the crowd, a deep growling sound. He is still a legend here and inspires great fear.
Pressure piles on. ‘Bounou is the best,’ says Aman fervently as he saves us time after time. Each time the crowd clap him, hands above their heads. When the Moroccan team runs with the ball, we all scream, ‘Seer, seer, seer! Go, go, go!’ only to gasp in united disappointment when it goes back to Portugal.
We are in to extra time and my nerves can’t take much more. ‘How much longer?’ I keep asking Aman. ‘Ya Rubbi, Ya Rubbi, Ya Rubbi – Oh, My Lord,’ she chants like an incantation.
Then, a hush falls. We wait. A ripple of realisation that it’s over races through us. Then there is an absolute explosion of delight as the whistle blows and Morocco has won. The emotion is overwhelming. The girls and I hug and kiss and dance and yell like banshees. God is thanked over and over again. The drums start beating and we are all caught up together in a maelstrom of the purest happiness.
If you enjoyed reading ‘Watching Morocco’s World Cup quarter final in Marrakech’, please do check out my books. Walking with Nomads has just been shortlisted for the Edward Stanford Travel Book of the Year. Also, both Walking with Nomads and Adventures in Morocco are now available as audio books.
There are also lots more pictures on Instagram.