Al Khor, Qatar — Emine al-Motakki never thought he would play in a World Cup game one day. It’s not an opportunity that everyone gets.
On Wednesday, the 27-year-old French-Moroccan physiotherapist from Marseille counted his blessings.
“It’s a privilege to be here,” he told CNN Breaking News. “I have a good job… so I’m good at saving money.”
Al-Motakki wore a Moroccan team jumpsuit wearing a lion mask and spoke about the rising cost of living in both France and Morocco, where many are struggling to make ends meet.
In view of these global crises, the visit to Qatar for the World Cup has become even more special, he said, describing it as one of the “best moments” of his life.
As spectators filled Al Bayt Stadium for the Group F game between Morocco and Croatia, al-Motakki’s colorful costume and mask made him a magnet for other fans, many of whom surrounded him for selfies — including a small child who seemed afraid of Al-Motakki’s appearance at first.
Back in France, according to the self-proclaimed soccer fanatic, he takes part in all Olympique de Marseille games and uses every opportunity to dress up for the occasion. “I like making people happy,” said al-Motakki.
He is also a fan of the French national team. When asked who he would support, he said it would be like “choosing between my mom and dad.” On Wednesday, however, he was out for his country of origin.
In fact, the venue and the area outside the stadium were dominated by fans of the Atlas Lions, as the Moroccan team is known.
Despite the heat, the stadium was full of color and excitement — a sea of red and green, the colors of the Moroccan flag, swept in the stands: families with children, couples and groups of friends.
The crowd was greeted by the Al Salam Dabke group from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Moroccans hurried to take pictures with them while some held Palestine flags next to the Moroccan flags.
Nabeela from Rabat, who is based in Qatar, said she was “very proud” that her team made it to the World Cup. “I am very confident that we will be doing well today,” said the 31-year-old, who works in an energy company.
But the regional camaraderie could also be seen. Nabeela said she was “so happy for the Saudis” and that her overwhelming surprise against Argentina on Tuesday “will also boost our team’s confidence.”
On Tuesday, Tunisia also surprised Denmark with a goalless draw.
Croatia there too
In the meantime, Croatian fans were outnumbered. Some wore bespoke white robes adorned with red squares reminiscent of their national flag — perhaps their way of celebrating the occasion that the World Cup was being held in an Arab country for the first time.
A couple that CNN spoke to Breaking News said they were having a “great time” in Qatar.
Maya, 56, and Davor, 61, said they lived on a cruise ship docked in Doha.
“The safety, hospitality… and transportation were perfect,” said Davor. This tournament is their first time in the Middle East.
“I think it’s wonderful that the World Cup is taking place here in this region,” said Maya. “It’s good for cultural exchange. People will be interested in traveling to other Gulf countries.”
When asked who will win today, Davor smiled and said he didn’t want to “jinx it.” It then opened up. “I think Croatia… it has a better team on paper.”
In the meantime, al-Motakki said he was confident that his team would be the winners. “It’ll be 2:1… another surprise.”