It began with laughter, singing and chanting Wednesday in Montreal’s Little Maghreb neighbourhood, but after France went ahead 2-0 late in their World Cup semifinal, fans of Morocco had to accept their team’s dream run was over.
At one packed cafe on Jean-Talon Street, many people got up and left after France scored its second goal, unable to watch the final minutes that clinched the game for the defending World Cup champions.
They had arrived hoping for more history, after Morocco became the first Arab or African country to ever make it this far in the tournament. At Cafe Sable d’Or — usually frequented almost exclusively by men — young children and women sat around its small tables, eagerly watching the match.
“They are winning, but we can still come back,” Mohamed Reffi said after France took an early lead. “The players are a bit more stressed but we still have a chance.”
Bouchra Dehak, who was born in Morocco, admitted to nerves of his own and said it was “the hope of all Moroccans” that the country move on to Sunday’s final against Argentina. Sara Deis, 26, originally from Tunisia, said before the kickoff that emotions were especially high because France was the opposing team.
“They will be beating their colonizers,” she said in reference to the fact Morocco was under French rule for 44 years before gaining independence in 1956.
After the final whistle was blown, it wasn’t all gloom as some fans who gathered outside said they were proud Morocco had climbed such heights.
“It’s sad, but that’s how it is …. We made it to the semifinals,” said Issam Qa, 24, who is originally from Morocco. “It was the first time and a real feat. I hope that they come back and go all of the way next time.”
Badreddine Bencheikh, born in Algeria, said that he was disappointed because Morocco was representing all of Africa and the Arab world.
“I really wish that they would have made it to the finals, but that’s soccer. And it’s been a real honour to see Morocco make it so far,” he added.
Over in Montreal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, France fans were out celebrating their team’s victory. On St-Denis Street, people were driving around honking their horns and waving French flags.
“It was a crazy game; Morocco has a great team. They played well, they tried to beat us, but we are France,” said Maxime Couteau, 22, who was parading down St-Denis Street with a large speaker blasting upbeat pop music, accompanied by his friend Simon Derry, who was wearing a French flag as a cape.
Couteau, who moved to Montreal from the Paris area four years ago, said he hopes his country can win its third World Cup _ and its second in a row.
Meanwhile in Toronto, fans at Real Sports bar donned Moroccan flags, jerseys and hats and sang the North African country’s national anthem.
Asmaa Boufrari, 28, of Mississauga, Ont., was one of dozens who lined up at the sports bar ahead of the 2 p.m. match. “We’re very proud of Morocco, obviously, for making it to this point,” said Boufrari, who lived in Morocco until she was 20.
“We reached this point, it doesn’t matter if we lose or win, at least we tried.”
After the game, fans of Morocco and France mingled outside the bar, sharing their highlights from the game, waving flags and congratulating each team on their performance.
Lahcan Oussa said it was “a good tournament” for Morocco even though the team didn’t reach the finals. “We made history, it’s the first time in African history for a team to reach the semifinals,” said Oussa.
Mustabha Karaoui, 20, of Toronto watched the match at the bar draped in a Berber flag. He said he was proud of Morocco’s performance.
“They had a great last game,” said Karaoui, who is from Morocco but identifies as Berber. “Today they performed very well but unfortunately France is very powerful …. This is football, you know, someone will win eventually.”
Tom Langeron, who lives in Toronto but is from France, left Real Sports exuberant, waving the French flag and shouting “Allez les bleus!” alongside friends. “We won, it’s the best day of our life,” said Michael Weiss, 21, grinning from ear to ear. “We are going to win a second time,” he added, predicting a defeat of Argentina Sunday.
— With files from Jessica Smith in Toronto.