Morocco’s World Cup heroics have won it support from across Africa and the Arab world, but in its neighbor and geopolitical rival Algeria, things are a little more complicated.
The Atlas Lions have become the first African or Arab team to reach a World Cup semifinal after knocking out a procession of higher-ranked European teams, winning accolades from Dakar to Dubai.
Many ordinary Algerians have also cheered their neighbor’s success, whether in a genuine spirit of North African solidarity or from the universal instinct of soccer fans around the world to seek a share in sporting glory.
“I feel like I must support Morocco — neighbors, brothers and Muslims,” said Mehdi Belkassam, 25, a kebab seller in Algiers.
But after years of icy relations and a long, difficult history marked by recriminations, Algeria’s government has ignored Morocco’s soccer exploits this winter, with television channels even censoring some of the team’s victories.
As other Arab and African countries have offered formal congratulations, Algeria’s government, which broke off ties with Rabat in 2021 after years of worsening relations, has been notably silent.
The two countries differ most bitterly over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, seen by Morocco as its own but where Algeria backs an armed independence movement.
There have been other disputes too, including over Morocco’s normalization of ties with Israel and allegations of spying. This year there were even arguments over the design of an Algerian soccer shirt.
“If we focus on politics, Morocco is an enemy after choosing Israel as its friend. But soccer is not about politics. That’s why I’ve supported Morocco this World Cup,” said Miloud Mohamed, a taxi driver in Algiers.
With Morocco now due to play France, the former colonial power that ruled both countries and is home to hundreds of thousands of people claiming North African heritage, the stakes for North African soccer fans have risen once more.
For the kebab seller Belkassam, the Algerian heritage of several leading French players did create a dilemma for his choice of support, he said. “But I will support Moroccans against France,” he added.
For Abdallah Shikh, 65, the colonial history meant the choice was clearer. “We are all with Morocco,” he said.
Among the many Algerians and Moroccans who have spent time in France, sharing an experience of life in a foreign land where they are sometimes exposed to racism, there was camaraderie in the idea of a semifinal against “Les Bleus.”
“You can’t find a difference between Moroccans and Algerians in Paris because it’s a city that mixes Casablanca and Algiers, a city of at least a million people from the Maghreb region,” said Rachid Oufkir, from Morocco, who had lived there for 12 years.
In Rabat, where ecstatic Moroccans have been basking in the triumph of their team and the congratulations of fellow fans across Africa and the Middle East, people were glad to think that soccer might bring them and Algerians closer together.
“This win and the spontaneous celebrations that followed are strengthening Moroccan-Algerian brotherliness,” said Oumar Id Tnain, a museum employee.
“For us, Algerians and Moroccans are one people,” he said.
Source: Voice of America