This is an edition of The Great Game, a newsletter about the 2022 World Cup—and how soccer explains the world. Sign up here.
There is a video from the World Cup that I can’t stop watching.
It’s not of Christian Pulisic’s self-sacrificial goal against Iran that sent the United States into the round of 16, or Lionel Messi dancing past a Croatian defender before providing the assist that sealed Argentina’s place in the final. It’s not even of France’s Kylian Mbappé tormenting world-class defenders in ways we have seen only a few times in the history of the game.
The video I can’t stop watching is of the Moroccan midfielder Sofiane Boufal dancing on the field with his mother after Morocco defeated Portugal to become the first African team, and the first Arab team, to ever make it to a World Cup semifinal. The moment lasts for only about 30 seconds but perfectly captures the joy that Morocco has brought to the tournament and the regions, cultures, and diaspora that its players represent.
There is something about the way the 29-year-old Boufal grabs his mother’s hands—at once gentle and exhilarated—the way he might have when he was a child; something about the way he begins hopping around in circles while music from the stadium speakers blares and his mother laughs, shuffling her feet in an attempt to keep up; something about the way he bends his body down so that he meets her at eye level, and smiles the way a son does when he knows he’s made his mother proud. Something about how, after they stop dancing, Boufal wraps his arm around his mother and kisses her on the forehead, while she kisses his hand. It is such a pure and simple expression of joy—a mother and son, holding each other close, both of them fully present and in awe of each other and the experience they get to share.
It is hard to overstate the significance of Morocco’s achievement. During the last World Cup, no African team made it out of the tournament’s group stage, and no African team in history has ever advanced as far—and Morocco had what it took to have gone even further. For large parts of its semifinal game against France, Morocco was the better, more dangerous team. Throughout the competition, Morocco played with passion, with heart, and with creativity, and defeated some of the top teams in the world in the process. It was a pleasure to watch them.
As Mbappé said to his dear friend, the Moroccan defender Achraf Hakimi, with whom he plays at Paris Saint-Germain, “Everybody is proud of what you did—you made history.”