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Ecstatic Moroccans celebrate World Cup victory over Portugal

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Ecstatic Moroccans poured into the streets of their capital and in cities across the North African country on Saturday, waving flags, honking horns and lighting flares to celebrate the national soccer team’s historic victory over Portugal at the World Cup.

Morocco beat the Portuguese 1-0 in Qatar, knocking Cristiano Ronaldo out of the tournament and making the Atlas Lions the first African and first Arab team to reach the World Cup semifinals.

The capital, Rabat, was bursting with joy while Morocco fans also celebrated in the streets of Doha and in cities across Europe, where many Moroccans live. Other fans from the Middle East and Africa who have adopted the Atlas Lions as their team were also jubilant.

“We were so stressed as if we were on the pitch with the players, but now we want the trophy,” said Mohamed Amine, who was celebrating in Rabat. “The players, this team lifted Morocco’s reputation high among the nations of the world.”

The victory has Morocco fans full of confidence for the days ahead. The team will face either France or England in the semifinals on Wednesday.

“I am so happy that I don’t even know if I can express myself, but if we are here now, I believe that we can make it to the final,” Yasmine Benmehredj said during celebrations in the Moroccan capital. “I think we can win this World Cup.”

In Qatar, hundreds of elated fans clad in green and red outside Al Thumama Stadium celebrated Morocco’s win, chanting, ululating, banging on drums and waving the national flag. Some chanted: “Congratulations to us for this beginning! It will only go on and on!”

“This is unbelievable. It’s the first time ever,” said Saleh al-Rayes, a 27-year-old fan from Saudi Arabia in Doha.

As an Arab at the first World Cup held in the Middle East, al-Rayes said he feels a sense of inclusion and representation in the world of soccer, a spot that has been dominated by European and South American teams.

“You come in as an underdog and then you win. It’s Arab pride,” al-Rayes said. “All Arab countries were here in the stadium supporting Morocco.”

Palestinians packed cafes and a sporting hall, turned into a free World Cup viewing venue by Qatar for residents of the impoverished Gaza, cheering and rejoicing at the victory. Some held posters with Palestinian and Moroccan flags and a slogan that said: “One People, One Country.”

Morocco’s victory in Qatar has touched Palestinians since the players and many of their supporters expressed solidarity on and off the field during the World Cup. Palestinian flags were regularly featured in groups of Morocco’s supporters in Qatar and among fans celebrating in Europe. On Tuesday, some of the team’s players unfurled Palestinian flags on the field after they defeated Spain.

“It’s an indescribable feeling. I swear, it’s as if it’s Palestinians that were playing,” said Ibrahim al-Lilli, a Morocco supporter in Gaza.

Similar scenes were seen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinians took to the streets, cars honking and people waving Palestinian and Moroccan flags. In Nablus, video posted on social media showed groups of Palestinians chanting “Morocco!” under the watchful eye of Israeli soldiers across the street.

“It’s beautiful,” said 23-year-old Abdullaziz Errayes, who is from Libya and had his national flag tied around his neck like a superhero cape as he was leaving the stadium in Doha. “It’s the first Arab, the first African country to reach the semifinals. Morocco is representing us.”

Morocco’s phenomenal run also reverberated across Africa on Saturday.

“Continental history!” the Confederation of African Football wrote on Twitter after Morocco’s victory.

“Historic and fantastic,” African Union chair and Senegalese President Macky Sall wrote in a tweet.

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Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press writers Luis Henao in Doha, Qatar, Cara Anna, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Wafa Shurafa in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports