Spain or Morocco? World Cup passions blur in Spanish exclave

CEUTA, Spain (AP) – World Cup The play-off between Spain and Morocco will bring millions of fans on both sides of Gibraltar’s shores together around screens in bars and lounges to see which country will continue its dream of football glory.

In Spain’s tiny North African province of Ceuta, loyalties are nowhere near as blurred, with national and religious identities intermingling in ways that often blur the categories of sports fans.

26-year-old Ceuta-born Sulayka Hossein feels “100% Spanish”, but when the games start on Tuesday in Qatar, her sorrows will fall on Morocco, the land of her grandfather.

“I’m Spanish and I want Spain to win, but I’m with Morocco. … Something moves inside me when Morocco plays,” she said at her indoor playground. She’s not,’ they say.

Some World Cup games are filled with political symbolism, such as the match between the United States and Iran. last week. Spain and Morocco are far from geopolitical rivals, but their long and complex relationship will undoubtedly be part of the background of the game in Al Rayyan.

Considered the smallest of the ancient Pillars of Hercules, Chiuta sits on a terrace and has been a Spanish possession since 1580. Its mixed population of Christians and Muslims, Spanish and Moroccan residents and day laborers lives in relative harmony in the background. Many desperate migrants from Africa consider the border fence as the last obstacle To a better life.

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However, the city of 85,000 has recently been at the center of the biggest diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat.

In May 2021, the Moroccan government abolished border controls And let thousands of young immigrants from Morocco and sub-Saharan countries to Ceuta, Morocco is not officially recognized as a Spanish territory.

The move was interpreted as Spain’s retaliation for Morocco’s decision to allow a pro-independence leader from the controversial Western Sahara region to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital. This, combined with the border being closed by Morocco for two years to control the outbreak, has affected the economy on both sides of the border. After Spain’s prime minister met with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, tensions eased and the border reopened. In April.

But for many people like Hosaina who live or work in Ceuta, the game will not tear them apart.

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It’s like a win: Spain or Morocco will be happy to make it to the quarter-finals and the winner will go all the way and lift the World Cup in Qatar.

Mohamed Larbi, 28, runs a bar in Ceuta which shows all the World Cup matches. He is a third generation Spaniard and fully supports Spain. Regardless of the result, he does not expect the game to lead to serious trouble like the violence in Belgium and the Netherlands after Morocco’s win over Belgium. At the group level.

“Morocco is playing well but when they meet Spain they hit a wall,” he joked. “And then it’s game over. That’s how it is.”

Even so, Larbi admitted that he and the other Muslims on the coast of Ceuta or the other Spanish province of Melilla were captured by anyone.

“The Moroccans say we are not Moroccan, they say we are the children of the Spaniards, but the Spaniards from the (Iberian) Peninsula say we are not Spanish.” “When you say you are from Ceuta, you show them where it is and there are people from the peninsula who say ‘that means Africa’.”

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The Moroccan group reflects its relationship with Spain, and Moroccans are the largest expatriate community in a country of 47 million with 800,000 inhabitants. Several Moroccan players play for Spanish clubs, including Sevilla striker Youssef N-Nessiri and goalkeeper Yassine Bounu. Talented right-back Achraf Hakimi, a Paris Saint-Germain player, was born in Madrid.

For Mohamed It Touzani, a 35-year-old barber in Ceuta, the message is clear: enjoy the game.

Originally from central Morocco, Et Touzani has lived in different parts of Spain for 15 years and says it’s “like my home”. He has a home, like many Moroccan roots, beyond the border. He plans to watch the game with Spanish friends at a bar in Ceuta called “Cristiano”. Cheers to Morocco.

“Football is football, politics is politics. So we’re going to play a game of football and have a good time, but with respect. That’s the main thing,” he said. “Morocco has red and green (on its flag), Spain has red and yellow. We have this in common. We are neighbors, and we must live as brothers.


Joseph Wilson reports from Barcelona, ​​Spain.


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