Celebrations in Fes

When the Club World Cup feels like the real World Cup

It had already gone into the books as a city of noise, a place where one din or another was always going on. Early on you had the nearby animals — the cat’s meow, the child’s wail, the cockadoodle-do. Later came the bustle of walking through the medina, a kind of commercial hum punctuated by impatient men with wagons full of unknown things wrapped up in tarpaulins calling for all to make way. And nothing came in through the bedroom window in the afternoon and evening like the calls to prayer. On days as short as these in late December, five namaz sessions come fast and furious — and in a town with so many mosques, the sound stretches on and on each time.

None of these sounds were anything like as big as the ones that erupted for Raja Casablanca’s goals the night they beat Atletico Mineiro. The first one followed the game’s opening goal by Raja striker Mouhssine Iajour. It was massive, like a thunderclap, and came with an element of awe, even terror. The hope these Moroccan fans had pinned on their unlikely team began to change. In a moment, it turned from an idle pipe dream into actionable desire to follow through and win.

The next few whoops were frustrated ones. Mineiro levelled the score and Raja made a hash of its chances to get another goal. It seemed likely that the joy was over, but in the space of ten minutes at the end of the game, all that changed. Raja won a penalty and converted, whipping up a huge cheer which never really died all the way down until a goal on a counter attack deep into injury time put the result out of reach.

The cheer that went along with that goal was virtually indistinguishable from the one that went with the final whistle, jubilant and shocked. But both seemed piddling in retrospect, once we’d heard something like a solid hour of shouts, car horns and chanting rolling through the city to celebrate the win.

With the country having failed in their attempt to get in to the World Cup in 2014, this win apparently accrued to all Morocco, even nearly 200 miles away from Raja’s home in Casablanca and more than 300 miles away from the game site in Marrakech.

On television I saw how how a bunch of the Raja players had approached Atletico’s Brazilian legend Ronaldinho after the final whistle. The first one asked to swap shirts, and once that was done others asked if the goalscorer could spare anything else as a souvenir. He gave away his shoes and left the pitch in sock feet. The Raja guys had beaten Ronaldinho’s club 3-1 to win the right to take on Bayern Munich in the final at the Club World Cup, but they weren’t about to pass up an opportunity to win a relic from one of their childhood heroes. They were competitors, yes — but once they’d won the battle they were fans again. They were in good company.

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