CORBEIL-ESSONNES, France, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Ahead of the World Cup semi-final between Morocco and France, Hichem Sayadi is feeling torn by divided loyalties.
Speaking from his home sports center in a French suburb south of Paris, where Morocco coach Walid Regragui started playing football and wore a Paris St Germain tracksuit, the 29-year-old says he will eventually side with Morocco.
“(Regragui) is from here, he has played where we play, and he is also an African team… it is historic,” said Sayadi, who is Franco-Algerian, adding that “it kills me to be against Kylian.” (Mbappe)”.
Appointed coach of the Morocco national team this year, Regragui, 47, began his football career in Corbeil-Essonnes, less than 30km from the French capital, where he grew up.
He played mainly for French teams including AC Ajaccio, Dijon and Grenoble, as well as Morocco between 2001 and 2009.
At the World Cup in Qatar, Morocco beat Belgium to top their group before beating Spain and Portugal to become the first African and Arab team to reach the quarterfinals at the world event.
In the Montconseil de Regragui neighborhood, blocks of flats surround the sports center and a shopping center with mostly closed shops.
Residents, many of African descent, say their “hearts flutter” and that they are sitting “between two chairs” as Wednesday’s match brings out multiple identities and sporting loyalties.
Teammates and friends will face off on the pitch, including Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi, who both play for Paris St Germain. Regragui played alongside French striker Olivier Giroud at Grenoble in 2008.
There is a sense of historical reparation to Morocco’s trip in which they have eliminated former colonial powers, including their own, from the tournament.
In the round of 16 they beat Spain, which colonized part of the country in the 20th century and still controls the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and now they face France, which colonized Morocco until 1956.
Regragui remained focused on sports at a news conference in Qatar on Tuesday, the eve of the game.
“I have dual nationality. It’s an honor and a pleasure to play against France, but it’s just football… I’m here as a football coach and what interests me is winning,” he said.
“DID NOT GIVE UP”
Those who knew Regragui as a child in Corbeil-Essonnes say that he played football constantly, took trains to go to matches and that although he was not the best among his teammates, he was the most determined.
When he started playing professional soccer with Ajaccio and Dijon, Regragui took neighborhood teenagers to clubs, including Sayadi as a boy of about 14.
Regragui has continued this tradition in Qatar by taking his mother and some close friends to Doha.
Moussa Jagne, a 20-year-old soccer scout, believes a win in Morocco would give the area’s youngsters the confidence to pursue their ambitions.
“There are clichés about the neighborhoods (like ours), many times they are bad-mouthed, now it is good to talk about success, like in relation to Walid,” he said.
“WE CAN MIX THINGS”
In France, where the far-right is gaining strength, the issue of identity has become a political flashpoint, with the Morocco-France party becoming a “loyalty test” for French citizens of immigrant backgrounds, he says. Rim-Sarah Alouane, legal researcher on discrimination and civil liberties at the University of Toulouse.
“(Right-wing politicians) do not accept that France has evolved and that there is a new generation that is confident in its multiple identities,” he said.
Following the quarterfinal victories of France and Morocco, Eric Zemmour, a far-right politician who won 7% in the first round of this year’s presidential election, said that “one can’t be for one and the other.” “.
Faycil Achouche, a 20-year-old waiter from Montconseil, doesn’t see a contradiction. He says that he has supported France in so many tournaments and now he wants to cheer on his other country, Morocco.
“I already know the emotion of seeing France win. Now that Morocco is in the World Cup, we can mix things up,” he said.
Reporting by Layli Foroudi and Clotaire Achi, Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Ed Osmond
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