World Cup 2022: Pride dulls disappointment in London's 'little Morocco'
It’s 6pm, and there’s no place to sit inside the Trellick Lounge on Golborne Road in west London.
Rows of Moroccan fans crowd around the two screens inside the coffee shop, waiting to see the Atlas Lions take to the pitch against France in the World Cup semi-final in Qatar.
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A line of people wanting to order coffee and sandwiches divides the crowds in front of the counter which is decorated with the red and green of the Morocco flag.
Men wearing the fez - the distinctive headwear named after the Moroccan city - and draped in flags sit patiently in front of the screens.
Others stand outside in the freezing cold, watching the screens from afar, nursing their cups of tea and harira - a hearty Moroccan soup - to stay warm.
Behind the counter is Abdesalam, who works at the Trellick Lounge and takes orders.
“Mint teas. Chicken mayo baguettes. People are hungry for the food and the football,” said Abdesalam, as he served customers while wearing a red and green hoody with the Moroccan team’s logo.
“People are excited, and so am I.”
Morocco made history by becoming the first African and Arab team to reach the last four of the World Cup.
Along the way, Morocco had done the unthinkable, beating Belgium, Spain, and then Portugal to progress.
Could they win the World Cup? Many in the Trellick Lounge believed they could.
But hope quickly turned to horror in the first five minutes when France’s Theo Hernandez hooked a goal past Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Groans echoed throughout Golborne Road and Ladbroke Grove, a neighbourhood that has become a "little Morocco" where supporters have gathered in growing numbers for each match. Crowds began jokingly shouting: “No more karwasa [or croissants] for dinner!”
Some began chanting "Dema Maghreb" - Morocco forever - to stay warm, and hopeful as the Atlas Lions fought hard to get back into the match, pushing the reigning world champions back into their own half and growing in confidence.
One of the TV screens in the Trellick Lounge was lagging behind the other - a common problem now when live football can be broadcast or streamed over many devices.
Those in front of the screen with the delay strained their necks to see the other, their attention drawn by the response of the crowd watching the match a few seconds ahead.
Come the second half, many remained optimistic. After all, Morocco was still in the semi-final of the 2022 World Cup.
Screams of “karab, karab, karab,” or "closer," could be heard as Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech sliced through the French defence, and as Fiorentina midfielder, Sofyan Amrabat lived up to his nickname of “minister of defence".
But their efforts were not enough. France scored a second goal, and the Trellick Lounge started to slowly empty. But when the final whistle blew, the crowds began to clap instead of leaving.
“The boys made us so proud,” said Mohamed, a lifelong Ladbroke Grove resident draped in a Moroccan flag and hat.
“Think about it. A new manager [Walid Regragui] at the last minute who united the team and built a group of boys that united not just Moroccans, but Algerians, Africans, Arabs, and Muslims.”
“These guys are going to come back stronger in four years.”
After the game, the players bowed, as they have each time in victory or defeat, in the direction of Mecca and then thanked the fans who had travelled to see them play.
But unlike after previous games, the mood on Golborne Road was muted as people shuffled back home through the snow.
Fourteen of Morocco’s 26-man squad were born overseas. A statistic not lost by many in Ladbroke Grove who saw this number as a badge of honour.
“No matter how long you are away from the motherland, Moroccans will always be proud of their heritage,” said Abde, who was born in Morocco but has lived his whole life in London.
“Our loyalties will always lie back home, and I’m proud this team has shown what we can do.”
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