PARIS (AP) — Morocco and its former colonizer France are facing off in the World Cup semifinal Wednesday in a historic match that has left both nations in the grip of excitement and anticipation — and fear of possible unrest.
Supporters plan gatherings in bars from the boulevards of Paris to the streets of Morocco’s capital Rabat, from the cosmopolitan French Riviera city of Nice to the historic Moroccan city of Marrakech.
Morocco was under French rule from 1912-56, giving the match political and emotional resonance for both nations.
Fans will be able to gather to watch the encounter on large screens placed in public squares in cities around Morocco, while many also will be watching from home or cafes.
Paris authorities said they are mobilizing 2,000 police officers — 800 more than on Saturday night for the quarterfinals, when France defeated historic rival England 2-1.
Some local officials called for the closure of the Champs-Elysees avenue, though that was ultimately rejected by Paris City Hall.
Whatever the outcome, huge celebrations are expected in Morocco, highlighting the history-making moment this game represents.
Morocco has exceeded all expectations in Qatar by beating second-ranked Belgium in the group stage and then eliminating European powerhouses Spain and Portugal in the knockout phase to reach the semifinals.
The team’s success marks the first time an Arab country — and an African country too — has made it to the World Cup semifinals.
For many in the former protectorate, the match against the defending champion is an opportunity to show that Morocco is a formidable foe — on the soccer pitch at least — even though immigration between the two countries has blurred the lines for many in France and in Morocco about who to support Wednesday.