Emine al-Motakki never imagined he would one day attend a World Cup game, it’s not an opportunity everyone gets. On Wednesday, the 27-year-old French Moroccan physical therapist from Marseille was counting his blessings.
“It’s a privilege to be here,” he told Al Jazeera. “I have a good job… so I’m able to save well.”
Dressed in a Moroccan team jumpsuit with a lion mask, al-Motakki talked about the spiraling cost of living in both France and Morocco, where many are struggling to make ends meet. Managing to visit Qatar for the World Cup amid such global crises made the occasion even more special, he said, describing it as among the “best moments” of his life.
As crowds filled Al Bayt stadium for the Morocco-Croatia Group F match, al-Motakki’s colorful costume and mask made him a magnet for other fans, many of whom surrounded him for selfies – including a young child who initially seemed terrified by al-Motakki’s getup.
Back in France, the self-described football fanatic said, he attends all the Olympique de Marseille games and takes every opportunity to dress up for the occasion. “I like to make people happy,” al-Motakki said.
He’s also a fan of the French national team, so when asked who he would support, he said it would be like “choosing between my mother and father.” On Wednesday though, he was all in for his country of origin.
Indeed, the venue and the area outside the stadium were dominated by fans of the Atlas Lions, as the Moroccan team is known.
Despite the heat, the stadium was filled with color and excitement – a sea of red and green, the shades of the Moroccan flag, swept the stands: families with children, couples and groups of friends.
The crowd was welcomed by the Al Salam dabke group from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Moroccans rushed to take pictures with them while some held Palestinian flags alongside the Moroccan one.
Nabeela from Rabat and a Qatar resident, said she was “super proud” of her team making it to the World Cup. “I am very confident we will do well today,” said the 31-year-old who works in an energy company.
But regional camaraderie was also on display. Nabeela said she was “so happy for the Saudis,” and that their stunning upset against Argentina on Tuesday “will boost the confidence of our team as well.” On Tuesday, Tunisia surprised Denmark by holding them to a goalless draw.
Moroccans gathered around performing groups like the Ramallah dabke team or characters like al-Motakki to sing their team sing, dance or scream phrases in support of the team. Some could be seen wearing their national dresses, including the famous red Fez cap.
Croatia there too
Meanwhile the Croatian fans were in much smaller numbers. Some were in custom-made white thobes plastered with red squares just like on their national flag — perhaps their way to match and celebrate the occasion of the World Cup being held in an Arab country for the first time.
One couple Al Jazeera spoke to said they are having a “great time” in Qatar.
Maya, 56, and Davor, 61, said they have been living on a cruise that is docked at Doha.
“The security, hospitality… and transportation has been perfect,” Davor said. We feel safe here.”
This tournament in their first time in the Middle East. “I think it’s wonderful the World Cup is here in this region,” Maya said. “It is good for cultural exchange. People will be interested in traveling to other countries in the Gulf.”
Asked on who will win today, Davor smiled saying he doesn’t want to “jinx it”. The he opened up. “I think Croatia … it has a better team on paper.”
Meanwhile al-Motakki said he is confident his team will be the victors. “It will be 2-1 … another upset.”