Morocco faces France in politically charged World Cup game

Dec 12, 2022, 11:33 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2022, 6:58 am

FILE - Moroccans celebrate in Rabat, Morocco, Saturday Dec. 10, 2022, after defeating Portugal in t...

FILE - Moroccans celebrate in Rabat, Morocco, Saturday Dec. 10, 2022, after defeating Portugal in the quarterfinal soccer match of the World Cup played in Qatar. Every meeting of Morocco and France, the North African country's former colonial ruler, meet in an international tournament, emotions run high among players and their supporters. Family tales of colonial past emerge among the Moroccans and stories of harsh life of immigrants in France bubble up with questions of national loyalty pop up to French players with immigrant roots. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy, File)

(AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy, File)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Hind Sabouni bristles with pride as she recalls her country’s history-making World Cup run as it eliminated one European soccer powerhouse and former colonial power after another — Belgium, Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal — to become the first African and Arab nation to reach the semifinals.

For the 26-year-old English teacher in Morocco’s capital, and many of her countrymen both inside the North African nation and throughout the diaspora, it’s about to get more complicated. Next up is France: The defending champion and Morocco’s former colonial ruler for much of the first half of the 20th century.

Wednesday’s match has political and emotional resonance for both nations. It dredges up everything that’s complex about the relationship in which France still wields considerable economic, political and cultural influence.

“This game is one of a kind,” Sabouni said. “Especially since France is next to beat.”

“We can show the rest of the world that Morocco is no longer France’s backyard.”

For the former protectorate, the match against the defending champion is an opportunity to show that Morocco is a formidable foe — on the soccer pitch at least — even though immigration between the two countries has blurred the lines for many in France and Morocco about who to support Wednesday in Qatar.

Over the past decade, Morocco’s relationship with France has changed. Sabouni said her generation of Moroccans is tired of France’s dominance. Young Moroccans, she said, “speak English instead of French, they buy more American products than French ones and even those who want to seek a better life abroad try to avoid France.”

“Even though this is just a football game, some people view it as an opportunity for revenge,” Sabouni said.

But not everyone.

Kenza Bartali, a communications professional in Rabat, sees no political overtones to the match. She obtained her master’s degree in France, and lived for two years in Paris and the southern cities of Nice and Toulon between 2016 and 2018. She made “wonderful friends” who are still her friends today. “Most Moroccan students were treated with respect,” the 26-year-old said.

Still, there is no doubt which team she’s supporting.

“I sincerely hope that Morocco advances to the final,” Bartali said. “I am aware that it will be difficult because France is a very good team, but we are hoping for the best.”

Sabouni’s sentiments resonate with Moroccans and other North Africans in France. Although the younger generation of immigrants and their descendants appear to be more at ease with multiple identities and languages in France, they still face institutional discrimination, racial and ethnic prejudice in public life, economic hardship and lack of job opportunities.

As in previous World Cups, France once again has turned to their national soccer team made up of players from diverse backgrounds as evidence that the country has indeed become a melting pot despite lurking prejudice, stoked against immigrants by elected right-wing politicians.

“Cultural changes and changes in life on the ground do have an effect and the team represents that,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at University of Virginia in Charlottesville who has authored two books on French and international soccer.

“The way the players inhabit being French and don’t seem to have an issue with also being African or anything else at the same time is an antidote to the immigrant resentment on the right.”

In Morocco, people have embraced the team’s foreign-born players as their native sons. They welcome the experience and professionalism they bring from Europe’s top clubs and are proud they chose Morocco as their national team when they could have played for the countries of their births, from Spain to Canada to Belgium and beyond.

The Morocco national team depends heavily on the diaspora, with 14 of the squad’s 26 players born abroad, including their French-born coach, Walid Regragui, the highest proportion for any team at the World Cup.

Like Morocco’s supporters at home and an estimated 5 million scattered around Europe and beyond, many players grapple with family tales of colonial history, the challenges of immigration and questions of national loyalty. They want desperately to detach from the burdens of the past and win a place in the World Cup final — whether home for them is in France or Morocco, or Belgium, Canada, Tunisia, Algeria or elsewhere.

“Most of the Moroccan players who were born abroad chose Morocco as their national team because they feel they play for more than just to win a football match,” said Maher Mezahi, a Marseille-based Algerian journalist covering African football. “They play to elevate national pride and to make their family proud.”

For Regragui, his and his player’s dual identities are meaningless in the biggest match the squad has faced.

“I’m a dual national, and that’s an honor and a pleasure,” the Moroccan coach said. “And it’s an honor and a pleasure to face France. But I’m the Morocco coach and we’re going to be playing the best team in the world. The most important thing is to get through to the final.”

“When we play for the Moroccan national team, we are Moroccans,” Regragui said.


Surk reported from Nice, France.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

7 months ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

7 months ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

7 months ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

7 months ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

7 months ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

7 months ago

Morocco faces France in politically charged World Cup game