RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco’s national soccer team is set to return home Tuesday after accomplishing the seemingly impossible feat of finishing fourth at the World Cup in Qatar. Tens of thousands of Moroccans were expected to turn out to greet the players.
As the first African or Arab team to reach the World Cup semifinals, the Moroccan team, known as the Atlas Lions, made history and was one of the big success stories of this year’s tournament, the first hosted by an Arab nation.
Big crowds were in the streets of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, and the rest of the North African kingdom for the homecoming. After the team beat former European colonial powers Belgium, Spain and Portugal, it lost to France in the semifinals. Its record-setting performance means the players are likely to receive a hero’s welcome.
“Morocco’s run in the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be remembered in the history books as one of the most exciting campaigns since the tournament’s inception,” café owner Reda Ghazi, 27, told The Associated Press. “It was the dream of every Moroccan to win something, especially because Morocco is a country where the passion for football is overwhelming.”
After their plane touches down, the players are set to ride an open-top bus through the major avenues of the capital. The royal court said Monday that King Mohammed VI would receive the team at the palace in Rabat “to celebrate their great and historic accomplishment.”
Morocco finished fourth in the competition after losing to Croatia 1-2 in the third-place play-off on Saturday, exceeding the expectations of most Moroccans.
“I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in this World Cup,” added student Anour El Berkaoui, 23. “The team has now set the bar so high that we won’t be happy with anything less than winning the upcoming African Cup of Nations.”
The Moroccan team charmed many Arab soccer fans who saw in the team a reflection of themselves. Players waved the Palestinian flag after their wins and celebrated on the field with their mothers and children.
The team also galvanized support across Africa.
“As an African team, we broke a lot of records and made the whole continent proud,” Rabat resident Omar Zorgane said .
“Morocco as a whole will gain a lot from this year’s World Cup, from tourism to getting the attention of other countries to possibly hosting one of the biggest tournaments in the world in the future,” he said.
Follow AP’s World Cup coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup