Morocco’s miraculous, history-making World Cup campaign came to an end Tuesday after a 2-0 loss to the defending champion France in the tournament’s semi-finals.
But even in defeat, their legions of fans in New York and beyond spilled onto Astoria’s Steinway Street, singing and dancing and brimming with pride over a team that advanced further than any African or Arab nation ever has before.
“Though we lost, we’re still celebrating,” said Sherouk Mohamed, a 28-year-old translator from Brooklyn. “Today we’re all Moroccan, we’re all Arab.”
It was a sentiment widely shared Tuesday on the strip of Queens known as Little Egypt, a bustling corridor of North African shops and restaurants that has become a nexus point for those cheering on Morocco’s unprecedented winning streak.
“We represent the Berbers, the Muslims, the Arabs and the Africans, we’re doing this for everybody,” said Yousef Idrissi, a 21-year-old student who had traveled to Queens from his home in New Jersey.
“Every Moroccan in the world knows about Astoria,” he added. “This is the place to be.”
Along the street’s hookah lounges and cafes, fans crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, greeting every Moroccan possession with cries of “siir!” (“go!”). When the final whistle blew, they flooded the street anyway, setting off flares and hoisting Moroccan flags alongside those of Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and others.
For many, the team’s improbable campaign, including stunning upsets over European powerhouses Spain and Portugal, carried a political salience – “revenge on the colonizers,” as Idrissi put it. Both during and after the game, Arab songs were interspersed with chants of “free Palestine,” a cause that has been embraced by Morocco’s players and fans across the world.
Alan Baissoune, an 18-year-old from Bensonhurst, said he was grateful to celebrate both the team’s achievements and his Moroccan heritage.
“It’s ambiance right there,” he said. “You don’t really get to go around and be with your own people and share that type of culture like it is back home. It’s great to do that over here.”
As the sun set on Steinway Street and the crowd filtered out, a line for couscous and kebabs snaked out the door of Little Morocco, a neighborhood staple of 17 years.
But on Wednesday morning, owner Drissi Lazar had awoken with a plan for a temporary name change, something more befitting of the momentous occasion.
“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” read the new sign on the door. “Sorry It’s Big Morocco.”