World Cup 2022: Moroccan team comes home to massive hero's welcome
The Moroccan national football team returned home to a hero's welcome, with tens of thousands of joyous fans out in the streets to cheer them on after the players exceeded the country's wildest expectations to finish fourth at the World Cup in Qatar.
Supporters packed squares and lined up along avenues and streets in and around the capital, Rabat, on Tuesday.
After the team's plane touched down on Tuesday, the players in matching navy suits rode an open-top bus through the major streets of the capital, with some waving the Moroccan flag at their supporters. Fans, meanwhile, lit flares, waved flags and danced in celebration.
The royal court said on Monday that King Mohammed VI would receive the team at the palace in Rabat "to celebrate their great and historic accomplishment".
The Moroccan team, known as the Atlas Lions, made history after becoming the first Arab and African tournament to reach the semifinals of a World Cup, the first hosted by an Arab nation, in Qatar.
In the group stages, the Atlas Lions pulled off a stunning 2-0 victory over second-ranked Belgium in a pulsating match at Al-Thumama stadium. In the knockout rounds, they held their nerve to beat Spain 3-0 in a penalty shoot-out after a goalless draw, before eliminating Portugal in the quarter-finals with a stunning 1-0 win.
Along the way, they earned plenty of plaudits throughout the tournament for their energy, strong defence, and attacking flair.
Their dream of ultimately winning the competition ended with a 2-0 semi-final defeat to 2018 champions France, followed by a 2-1 defeat in the third-place match against Croatia, to ultimately finish in fourth place.
Morocco was the only team from the Middle East and North Africa to make the last 16, after Qatar, Iran, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia were eliminated during the group stages.
Their success in this year's world cup was celebrated throughout the Middle East and North Africa as well as the Muslim world. Its historic run was also celebrated in the African continent.
In their major victories, the Moroccan team waved the Palestinian flag in celebration. Despite Palestine not qualifying for the tournament, its national flag was a ubiquitous symbol throughout the event.
"If someone had told me before the tournament that we would play seven matches in Qatar, we would have been happy," Morocco coach Walid Regragui told BeIN Sports.
"All Moroccan, African and Arab people have seen how this team fought and wanted to make the country happy … We will try to return after four years," the coach added.