RABAT, Morocco, Feb 2 – The excitement created around Morocco hosting the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup lived up to its billing thanks to the country writing history as the first African side to reach a FIFA World Cup semifinal.
With the Club World Cup returning to Morocco for the first time since 2014, local fans braved up the chilly evening to welcome the globe with pride and joy ahead of the opening ceremony kicked-off by Egyptian giants Al Ahly versus New Zealand’s Auckland City match.
The toddlers accompanied by their mothers, young and elderly graced the match that was hosted in Tangier at the 65,000-seater Ibn Batouta Stadium with 47,127 fans turning out.
Despite being a weekday, one would have mistaken if for a weekend going by the magnitude who started streaming to the stadium as early as 11a.m to purchase tickets ahead of the 8p.m local time match kick-off.
Unlike in many African countries, everything flowed seamless with fans following the orders set up. The ticket is indicated with the seat number allocated and one is assisted by the security team in charge of seats on designated place.
There are four security checks: one to check you in; then another one to check if you have the ticket; another one that scans the ticket before allowing you in the stadium compound; and the final one directing you to your gate where it’s checked again before letting you in.
Though language is a barrier for foreigners, especially those coming from the anglophone countries, excitement could not be hidden from the Moroccan fans.
“Hakim Ziyech! Big player! Morocco big team in Africa,” one of the fans told Capital Sport in Tangier.
“Football is back in Morocco! We are happy to welcome the world of football after the World Cup where Morocco proved to the globe its worth. Its winter but you can see the passion people have by turning up in large numbers,” another fan said.
“I am looking forward to watching Real Madrid live! I am a big fan, I can’t wait to see Vinicius Junior, I am a big fan,” he added.
In the opener, the fans threw their weight behind rivals, Egypt’s Al Ahly. and they were not let down, as the match ended 3-0 in favour of their sworn enemies as Oceania champions Auckland City crash out.
Al Ahly, runners-up to tournament hosts Wydad Casablanca in last year’s CAF Champions League, play the Seattle Sounders on Saturday with the winners advancing to meet Real Madrid.
Real Madrid are the record four-time champions after winning in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and are favorites to win this year’s edition.
The tournament last took place in the North African country in 2014, when Real Madrid beat Argentinian side San Lorenzo 2-0 to claim the title.
Real Madrid and Flamengo will automatically enter proceedings at the semifinal stage, with the Brazilian side set to face either Wydad AC or Al Hilal on February 7.
The format is set to change radically in the coming years, with FIFA planning for an expanded competition involving 32 teams to be held every four years beginning in 2025.
Africa: Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) – CAF Champions League winners
Africa: Al Ahly (Egypt) – CAF Champions League runners-up
Asia: Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) – AFC Champions League winners
Europe: Real Madrid (Spain) – UEFA Champions League winners
N. America: Seattle Sounders (USA) – CONCACAF Champions League winners
Oceania: Auckland City (New Zealand) – OFC Champions League
S. America- Flamengo (Brazil) CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores winners
2023 FIFA Club World Cup match schedule
Date Round Match
Wed, Feb. 1 1st Round Al Ahly vs. Auckland City
Sat, Feb. 4 2nd Round Seattle Sounders vs. Al Ahly/Auckland
Sat, Feb. 4 2nd Round Wydad Casablanca vs. Al Hilal
Tue, Feb. 7 Semifinal Flamengo vs. Wydad/Al Hilal
Wed, Feb. 8 Semifinal Seattle/Al Ahly/Auckland vs. Real Madrid
Sat, Feb. 11 Third Place Semifinal 1 loser vs. Semifinal 2 loser
Sat, Feb. 11 Final Semifinal 1 winner vs. Semifinal 2 winner