AL RAYYAN, Qatar; The first World Cup held in an Arab nation has produced the Arab world’s first quarterfinalist.
Morocco became only the fourth African country to reach the quarterfinals at the biggest soccer tournament in the world by beating Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw through extra time.
The Moroccans were playing in only their second knockout game at a World Cup, an event held in the Middle East for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.
“Right now is a special moment for all Africa, for all the Arab countries, for all the Muslims around this world,” Morocco midfielder Azzedine Ounahi said. “You try to make them happy, try to make ourselves happy. And I think it goes quite well.”
The World Cup in Qatar is the first to be played in the Arab world and only the second to be held in Asia. The tournament began with one of the biggest upsets in history: Saudi Arabia beat two-time champion Argentina on the third day of action.
The Saudis were eliminated, as were host Qatar and Tunisia, in the group stage. That left Morocco as the Arab world’s standard bearer.
“I’m very proud of my fans, of my people and Arabic people,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui, the first African to coach an African team to the quarterfinals. “Also, because I think you have Qatari people here, maybe Algerian people, Tunisian people, Arabic people and African people.”
The victory has been celebrated among all the Muslim countries. Although it is a sport, it proves that Muslims feel a bond worldwide. It is a symbolic gesture of Islamic brotherhood.