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Some North African fans saw Morocco’s World Cup Semi-Final match against France, the current world champions, as much more than just a soccer match.

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More than just securing a spot in the final versus Argentina on Sunday will be on the line. The rivalry between the two nations is intensely personal and even political for the millions of North Africans living in France, and Paris in particular.

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A vendor at a street market in the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Barbès in northern Paris declares as he displays his goods: brocade-trimmed traditional abaya dresses. “Everyone here, everyone, is with Morocco.”

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Two Moroccan flags are raised among them, which is likely to entice customers on game days.

He asks to be reported as Mohamed Sisi, a name he admits is not his, and claims that Morocco is the best and will win. He continues, “France has no choice.” “The best is Morocco.”

Whether or whether Morocco defeats France, the nation has already won in a sense since it is the first African and Arab nation to advance to the World Cup semifinals in its 92-year existence.

The contest has more resonance because Morocco is playing against its previous colonial overlord.

Many North Africans living in France find it difficult to decide which side to support, and others even think they shouldn’t be required to make a decision at all.

“I am entirely French when I am in France. The L’Atlas is a Moroccan restaurant on Paris’ Left Bank that serves traditional couscous and tajine dishes. Benjamin El Jaziri, 69, the restaurant’s owner, claims that when he is in Morocco, he is “100% Moroccan.”

On a chilly Tuesday night, El Jaziri, a Paris resident since 1974, stood leaning on the wooden bar counter of the restaurant and talked about the team he will support on Wednesday over potent black coffees. He pauses, then says, “I will support Morocco. Above all, it’s one’s roots that count.” But it’s very challenging to say. I’m Moroccan-French.

In France, where the issue of national identity is still extremely sensitive, even the act of hyphenating one’s ethnicity—as Americans do—is widely regarded as taboo.

The goal of France’s national education system and even parts of its legislation is to commodify ethnic identity—a concept that far-right organizations have long centered their arguments on. Hijabs have been prohibited on females entering French public spaces since 2011. Although the law covers all overt displays of religion, French Muslims believe it specifically targets them.

The team’s complicated identities are France and Morocco

Leading personalities on the right erupted when the “Atlas Lions” stunned European heavyweight Portugal in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Éric Zemmour, the leader of the far-right, who ran unsuccessfully for president in April on a platform that was virulently anti-Muslim, blasted the large Moroccan celebrations in Paris.

“What would the King of Morocco think if the French celebrated their victory in Marrakesh?” Zemmour, an Algerian-born Berber Jew, said as such. The television images of Morocco’s players, many of whom were born in Europe but have Moroccan ancestry, praying on the field after their triumph also infuriated some right-wing lawmakers.

This is more than just football, claims Emmanuel Rivière, director of global polling at Paris-based Kantar Public. He continues, using the term “separatism,” which is used in France to describe ethnic communities that adhere to lifestyles different from traditional France, “It is at the very heart of the existential questions that French society is asking itself—about identity, feelings of belonging, and what we call “separatism.”

In fact, members of both teams have dealt with these issues.

The national squad of France is made up, in part, of immigrants from West and North Africa. Numerous soccer players have emerged from the banlieues, the mainly Muslim districts around Paris and other towns. This includes Kylian Mbappé, a 23-year-old French forward who was up in the impoverished Bondy neighborhood of Paris and has a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother.

The majority of his players were born in Europe of Moroccan ancestry, including the 47-year-old Moroccan coach Walid Regragui, who was born in a hamlet south of Paris. The match on Wednesday is almost a fraternal; Mbappé and Achraf Hakimi, the top goal scorer for Morocco, both play for Paris-Saint-Germain in the Ligue 1 division of France.

The diversity of the French national team is so apparent that when it won the 1998 World Cup, it was cited as an example of an equitable rainbow nation—a claim that many North Africans living in France could contest.

2018’s World Cup was won by France once more, and Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show, “Yes! The World Cup was won by Africa! —a allusion to the disproportionately large Black player population of Les Bleus. Then-ambassador of France to the United States fired back fiercely at Noah by tweeting, “They are French. They take pride in their nation.

Ayoub Simour, 22, a son of Moroccan parents born in Paris and a writer for the Bondy Blog, a website covering the banlieues situated in the Paris district where Mbappé grew up, says: “We don’t know if we should support France or support Morocco. I will support Morocco since it is a rare chance for an African team to advance to the final, the man declares. It is historical.

“There are enormous expectations”

According to a 2017 survey, the roughly 750,000 Moroccan immigrants in France have a significant impact on the nation, accounting for the largest proportion of foreign-born students and the second-largest proportion of foreign-born doctors (behind Algerians).

They are joined by more than a million people who have emigrated from Tunisia and Algeria, France’s other two former colonies in North Africa, with their families or by themselves.

These villages came together in jubilation on Saturday after Morocco’s dramatic victory against Portugal in the quarterfinals. Numerous people were playing the darbouka, a traditional North African drum, as crowds of people flowed out of cafés throughout Paris and into the spacious Champs-Elysées boulevard.

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