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Morocco fans back the soccer team to beat France in the World Cup

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

If you like to root for the underdog, maybe you have already been following Morocco. The men's soccer team is now the first from an African or Arab nation to reach the semifinal of a World Cup. They've just knocked out powerhouses Spain and Portugal. Tomorrow, they look to take down France. And nowhere are fans more excited than in Morocco. Aziza Nait Sibaha is a senior TV host for France24 and joins us now from Rabat. Welcome.

AZIZA NAIT SIBAHA: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So can you just describe for us what it has been like there in Morocco with this historic success that the men's team is having? How are fans reacting?

CIBAHA: Oh, it's just crazy here, actually, this historical achievement. Everybody's smiling. Like, everybody's talking about having faith. And now they believe in it, and they want to go also to the finals. So I think that the national squad shred a huge glass ceiling.

SUMMERS: So this has been an incredible run for Morocco, as we mentioned. This team is the first African and Arab team to go this far in the World Cup. Have people been soaking that in?

CIBAHA: Oh, yes. And if I may just remind you that Walid Regragui, the coach, said this morning, we didn't come here just to say that we are the first of an African country to get to the semifinals. We want to go all through to the finals. So now, like, everybody is believing in it. And it's really changing. All the Arab countries and all the African countries are now behind this squad. And I think that that's one of the things that can help and that what made the difference till now, I think.

SUMMERS: You know, we have all seen these scenes after matches when some of the players run to the stands to celebrate with their mothers, and they're incredibly heartwarming. Has that affected people back home, seeing those lovely moments that we've all watched?

CIBAHA: Absolutely. Actually, the Moroccan coach wanted this time to bring the moms with the players. I think that he wanted to give a certain - a human dimension and a family dimension. That talks absolutely to the Moroccans. A lot of people know here in Morocco what's the relationship between all men and their moms. So people can - identifying themselves to the players and feeling exactly the same thing. But on the other hand, also, I met with a lot of moms, actually, on the street just cheering for the team. And they were like, they are our children. And now that helps also shifting the mindset toward women as a support to us, as well.

SUMMERS: You know, this has obviously been an incredibly exciting World Cup for supporters of the Moroccan team, but it is hard not to think about past colonial ties in Wednesday's face-off between France and Morocco but also in the previous matches with Spain and Portugal. Have fans brought those tensions up to you when you've been speaking with them?

CIBAHA: A lot of players are French and Moroccan, but it's all about football more than anything else. And they want to face the defending champions. They want to face some of them. Like, Achraf Hakimi, for example, is playing in PSG with Mbappe, with Kylian Mbappe. So he will be facing his best friend, for example. They want to face the champions tomorrow.

SUMMERS: There is a lot on the line for Morocco tomorrow in the semifinal match. Just generally speaking, how are people preparing for this match versus France tomorrow? What's that look like there?

CIBAHA: There are some fan zones in Casablanca, for example. But here in Rabat, lot of cafes, lot of restaurants, a lot of hotels are also sit-in fan zones with a huge screen so that everybody can watch them. There are a lot of places where we can see the flags everywhere. I'm seeing a lot of people with the national jersey as well. And that's a good thing also because I think that people in this time exactly, even politically, internationally, they needed some good vibes. And they're getting them from the national team in Morocco.

SUMMERS: That's Aziza Nait Sibaha, senior TV host for France24 in Rabat, Morocco. Thank you so much for being here. And hey, good luck tomorrow.

CIBAHA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gus Contreras
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.