In a tournament blighted by grim events off the field, Morocco have provided some rare joy. Not only have they become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, they have been quick to share their success with their biggest supporters.
Following his decisive spot kick in the penalty shootout win against Spain in the last 16, Achraf Hakimi drew the attention of the cameras when he went over to celebrate with his mum in the crowd and was photographed receiving a proud kiss on the cheek. He did much the same after Morocco’s quarter-final victory against Portugal, clambering into the stands to embrace her. After the Spain game, he posted a picture of them together captioned: “I love you mum”.
He is not the only one who has benefitted from maternal support at the tournament. Several clips of players greeting their parents at full time have gone viral in the aftermath of the Portugal game, including one of Sofiane Boufal dancing with his mum on the sidelines as Morocco supporters cheered them on.
Walid Regragui, the head coach, has also been spotted climbing into the stands to celebrate with his mother during Morocco’s unprecedented run to the semi-finals. After Regragui masterminded the win against Spain, Usher Komugisha, an analyst for Al Jazeera, tweeted: “Walid Regragui’s mother Fatima, who has lived in Paris for more than 50 years, has never travelled to watch him as a player or coach but he insisted she comes to the World Cup in Qatar. Result? He inspired Morocco to a historic quarter-final place.”
Al Jazeera has reported that Regragui and Fouzi Lekjaa, the president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, have ensured that family members chosen by the players have received all-inclusive trips to Qatar. Parents are ever-present at the Wyndham Doha West Bay hotel, Morocco’s World Cup base, with Abdelhamid Sabiri’s mum and dad also familiar faces around the team camp.
Involving players’ parents in the tournament is a deliberate morale-building strategy on Regragui’s part. Upon taking the job in August, he said: “Our success is not possible without our parents’ happiness.”
Judging by Morocco’s performances, it appears to be working. Their triumphs against Spain and Portugal have ranked as two of the biggest upsets at the tournament so far, setting up a momentous contest against France on Wednesday for a place in the final.
Hakimi, one of the team’s outstanding players at right-back, has previously spoken of how much his parents mean to him. “We come from a modest family that struggled to earn a living,” Hakimi said in an interview when he joined Borussia Dortmund on loan from Real Madrid in 2018. “Today I fight every day for them. They sacrificed themselves for me.”