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Moroccan fans gather on the Champs Elysees in Paris to celebrate Morocco s qualification for the semifinals of the World Cup.

Benjamin Beraud / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Morocco plays French politics, 11th-hour EU/Hungary deal, big energy milestone

Atlas Lions vs. French far-right

When reigning champion France takes on underdog Morocco in the World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron will be in the stands. And whatever happens on the pitch it’s almost certain to cause tremors for him at home. The “Rocky Balboa” success of Morocco’s “Atlas Lions” – the first Arab or African team ever to make it this far in a World Cup – has struck a chord with millions of first- and second-generation French citizens of Arab and African origin. The worry is that a small minority of those fans may riot in the streets after the match — regardless of whether Morocco wins or loses — as they did last weekend in Paris after first Morocco beat Portugal and then France defeated England in the quarterfinals. Popular far-righters like TV provocateur and former presidential frontrunner Éric Zemmour will surely seize on any unrest to advance their calls for tighter restrictions on immigration. And that will cause a problem for Macron himself, who’s under pressure from the French right to pass a new law targeting illegal immigrants.

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Morocco line-up during the 2022 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match against Portugal in Doha, Qatar.

Jose Breton via Reuters Connect

What’s it worth to crush it at the World Cup?

Whether or not underdog Morocco beats France in the World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, one thing is sure: Becoming the first African or Arab nation to get this far in the biggest sporting event on the planet stands to get Morocco more than on-field glory in Qatar.

The Atlas Lions probably didn't expect to have such an amazing run, but their overperformance is no coincidence. It’s the fruit of decades of heavy investment by the kingdom in developing its players as part of Morocco’s broader sports diplomacy.

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Badr Benoun celebrates after Morocco progress to the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar.

REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Morocco’s historic World Cup run transcends its borders

Eurasia Group's Strahinja Matejic is attending the Atlantic Dialogues conference in Marrakech, Morocco. But he decided to go a day early to join local fans who watched the Atlas Lions make World Cup history.

“Are we winning tonight?”

That was the first question a Moroccan immigration officer asked me at the Casablanca airport just hours before Morocco faced mighty Portugal in the quarter-finals of the men's soccer World Cup in Qatar.

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