Puffs of smoke floated through the dimly lit Falls Church hookah lounge Wednesday morning as a group of Moroccans gathered inside. The walls, painted deep red, matched the nation’s flag hanging in the middle of the room.
Not long before the national team’s game against Portugal, Oussama Moukram handed out a few extra jerseys a friend had sent him from Morocco. Zaki Benhommane, wearing a light pink button-down shirt and dress shoes, slid a white jersey over his work clothes and settled in for the weekday match.
With just over 10 fans inside Tarab Lounge as kickoff approached, the group stood for the Moroccan national anthem and sang along. They grew louder as the anthem drew closer to the end. Some stood with their hands on their chests. Others grinned with pride. For the next couple hours, all that mattered was their sport, their team and their country.
“Once you step in here, you know the game is on,” Benhommane said. “You leave that American side of you outside.”
Mounir Khalid sipped his Moroccan tea in between puffs of hookah. Others drank coffee. Usually, Tarab Lounge wouldn’t be open so early, and the comfy sofas and chairs would be arranged around the knee-high tables in a way that facilitates conversation. But this is the World Cup. All the seats had been moved to face one of the televisions, and the hookah lounge turned into a makeshift theater. Outbursts of passion become the primary form of communication. Soccer, Khalid said, “means everything.”
After losing to Iran in their World Cup opener, the Moroccans faced a Portugal team led by Cristiano Ronaldo. Beating Portugal, Khalid said, would be like winning the World Cup. Yet, the Moroccans could not hold off the Portuguese star, who scored the game’s lone goal in the fourth minute.
More fans filed in as the game progressed, about 30 in total. Through the match, they expressed frustration with the officiating. The fans screamed at the television as they thought fouls weren’t called against Portugal, and they yelled even louder when they felt the broadcast’s replay confirmed their beliefs.
Outraged, Moukram grabbed his phone that featured a photo of Aziz Bouhaddouz as its background image — his way to show support for the player who conceded an own goal in the game against Iran. Moukram opened Facebook to voice his complaints about the referees there, as well.
Once, about midway through the game, the Moroccan fans chanted a prayer in unison that, according to Hamza Hadani, is said at weddings to wish good things to happen. But that was to no avail. Morocco’s attempt to score soon after sailed wide of the goal post.
Despite the early Portugal goal, these fans held onto hope. At halftime, Moukram predicted a 2-1 Morocco win, but by the end of the game, he wiped his eyes with his scarf.
“That’s a part of the game,” Moukram said. “I know I’m going to get over it. I believe in my team.”
After the whistle, the fans sat quietly as the noise from the television dominated the space for the first time all morning. They scrolled through their phones, still smoking hookah. Those who had opted to delay their work schedules to accommodate the game hurried out.
“We can’t miss the World Cup,” said Benhommane, a volleyball coach at a local club. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Benhommane stayed to watch some of the analysis and game highlights, but he too had to head out around 10:15 a.m. to go to work. Still wearing the Moroccan jersey over his button-down, Benhommane walked into the parking lot, leaving the temporary haven for Moroccan soccer and back into the clear air of a different world.
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