As Morocco’s footballers enter the biggest week of their lives, they will do so with not only a frenzied nation behind them but also the players' mothers ready to dance another jig.
Amid joyous scenes in Qatar, Morocco became the first African or Arab country to reach the World Cup semi-finals by beating Portugal on Saturday and set up a remarkable last four showdown with holders France on Wednesday.
Images and videos of Morocco’s celebrations were widely shared in the aftermath as the Atlas Lions sounded out their families in the crowd. Notably, the players' mothers have taken centre stage.
As Cristiano Ronaldo left the stadium in tears, Moroccan winger Sofiane Boufal brought his mother onto the pitch to celebrate with the 29-year-old, dancing on the side of the pitch and holding her hand.
“For me, my mum is the most important thing in my life,” Boufal, who was born in France, said after Morocco’s last 16 win over Spain.
“Of course [she was crying], the emotions in this game make you crazy. The support of your family is the most important thing.”
Sofiane Boufal dancing with his mum is the best pic.twitter.com/WdJbqUw5G8
— Ben Phillips (@benphillips76) December 10, 2022
Then, following the North African side’s victory over Portugal in the last eight, Achraf Hakimi was seen proudly embracing his mother in the stands.
It wasn’t just the players who paid due respect to their mums. Morocco head coach Walid Regragui gazed into the stands to spot his mother, Fatima, who has resided in Paris for five decades.
She told Moroccan sports channel Arriyadia: “During his whole career as a player and as a coach, I never travelled to watch him. This is the first competition that I left Paris for.”
And what a first football showpiece to travel to. In a tournament which has been overshadowed by controversy for its staging in Qatar, Morocco’s run to the last four, coupled with the family attention, has brought unbridled joy to the World Cup.
That has largely been down to the Moroccan Football Federation paying for all-inclusive trips to Qatar for the players’ families. It was a move initiated by coach Regragui. “Our success is not possible without our parents’ happiness,” he said when taking up the role only at the end of August.
Morocco are now one match from a barely believable World Cup final appearance as their remarkable journey continues. In Doha, they have only conceded once, to Canada, in five World Cup matches so far in reaching the semi-finals against the French.
Hakimi’s bold, panenka-winning spot kick in the shoot-out win over Spain has undoubtedly been a highlight as they reached the last eight for the first time.
"I used to drive 100 kilometres every day to take my son to Real Madrid,” his father, Hassan, said in a recently-surfaced interview as Morocco advanced to the knock-out stages.
“I am glad how his career has turned out. It gives me joy to see him succeed. I ask parents to make sacrifices for their children. I thank God for everything.”
Watch: Morocco fans celebrate historic win