Watching North African Teams Beat Their Colonizers Has Been Our Highlight of This Year’s FIFA World Cup


The 2022 FIFA World Cup is currently underway in Doha and what a World Cup it has been. The quadrennial football tournament, which kicked off on Nov. 20 in Qatar’s capital, has been highly entertaining, with incredible goals and surprising upsets that no one saw coming— during the Group Stage, four-time World Cup winners Germany and the number two ranked team in the world Belgium were eliminated on the same day by Japan and Croatia, respectively. But perhaps, our favorite part of this year’s competition is witnessing teams from our neck of the woods defeat, and/or eliminate, their former oppressors.

On Dec. 6, Morocco’s Atlas Lions beat out Spain, making history as the first Arab and North African country to reach the quarterfinals. Morocco won 3-0 on penalties after a goalless game, becoming the first Arab team to reach the final eight stage of the FIFA World Cup. What made the defeat even sweeter was that Achraf Hakimi, who was born in Madrid, scored the decisive penalty which sent Spain home. 


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Hakimi, who plays in the European league for Paris Saint Germain, is the son of working class immigrants from Spain. His father was a street vendor, while his mother cleaned houses. The right-backer has spoken very publicly about facing racism in Spain in previous interviews. In 2019, Hakimi told El Mundo, “Even with my Spanish ID card and passport, it didn’t matter. They see an Arab name. They see your Moroccan face. Whether they want to or not, they do racist things, without even realizing. I noticed it and I still notice it. I can be leaving the Bernabeu, in a nice car, with a cap on, or going out to eat with friends… and the police stop you. They think we are people who rob cars. You can understand it, but it always happens to the same people, foreigners. They don’t stop a white Spanish person.”  Though he was eligible to play for Spain’s national team, he opted instead to play for Morocco, ultimately helping his native country make football history against its former colonizer that occupied it for 75-years. 

There are nearly one million Moroccans living in Spain today, where anti-Arab and anti-African racism is still pervasive. Just earlier this year, the leader of Spain’s Vox party, Santiago Abascal said that “Ukrainian refugees, not Muslim migrants, should be welcomed in Spain.” Morocco’s win is for every Arab, North African, and Muslim that is constantly demonized and disparaged by people like Abascal.

Morocco is set to play Portugal in the quarterfinals, and assuming that Morocco and France win their next matches, they could go on to face each other in the semifinals for a place in the World Cup finals. Portugal and France are also former oppressors of the North African Kingdom. Could Morocco pull off the ultimate colonizer hattrick by beating Spain, Portugal, and France back-to-back? 


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Meanwhile, Morocco isn’t the only country to defeat their former oppressor during this year’s tournament. Last week, Tunisia beat France 1-0, making them the first team to triumph over France in a World Cup game since Germany in the 2014 quarterfinal. Though its first-ever World Cup win against a European nation still was not enough to send them through to the knockout stages of the tournament, the victory was still a major achievement for all Arabs across the world as no one expected Tunisia to prevail, let alone against the reigning World Cup champions. 

Both Tunisia and Morocco sprawled out a Palestinian flag during their post-game celebrations, another symbolic expression of anti-colonialism. Now, if only colonizers left the countries they oppressed as quickly as they are leaving the World Cup, the world would certainly be a much better place. 

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