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Morocco’s shocking World Cup success is sparking debates across Africa

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People walk past a sports apparel shop in Morocco’s capital Rabat on December 13, 2022 a day ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup semi-final football match between Morocco and France.FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

The narrative for Wednesday’s semi-final between Morocco and France is shaping up as one of the most potent in World Cup history: the first African and Arab country ever to reach the semi-finals will confront its former European colonizer in a classic underdog-against-champion showdown with a sharp geopolitical edge.

For many African soccer fans, the narrative became even more dramatic after the Atlas Lions managed to defeat three of Europe’s traditional colonial powers – Belgium, Spain and Portugal – in their astonishing journey to the final four.

But while Morocco’s historic achievement has sparked a wave of excitement and support across Africa, it is also generating some conflicted feelings. Many Africans have mixed emotions about the North African team – largely because of Morocco’s own history.

“I refuse to celebrate,” said Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, a prominent MP in a South African opposition party, in a tweet after Morocco’s shocking upset of Portugal in the quarter-finals.

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“Africa must reject Morocco until they end their occupation of Western Sahara,” he said, adding a #FreeWesternSahara hashtag for emphasis.

Ndlozi was referring to one of the bitterest issues in Africa: the long-standing Moroccan occupation of the disputed territory known as Western Sahara, whose fight for independence is supported by the African Union and many African governments. Many Africans consider the territory to be the last colony on the continent.

The dispute over Western Sahara – known to its supporters as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – has weakened Morocco’s political and diplomatic links to the African continent for decades. In 1984, the Moroccan government quit the first postindependence pan-African union, the Organisation of African Unity, because of the Western Sahara issue. For the next 33 years, it refused to join the OAU or its successor organization, the African Union, until finally relenting in 2017.

Less than two months ago, in an example of African support for Western Saharan independence, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed the territory’s president, Brahim Ghali, on a state visit to Pretoria. South Africa also hosted a “solidarity conference” for the territory in 2019, and the Ramaphosa government has touted its “strong historical ties dating back to the years of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.”

Despite the long-standing territorial dispute, Morocco’s soccer team has been anxious to claim an African identity. “We are here to represent Africa,” head coach Walid Regragui said in a television interview earlier in the tournament. “We want to fly Africa’s flag high, just like Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon.”

The team’s Arab identity has also been vividly on display, with its players often waving a Palestinian flag after victories. This, too, has endeared them to the many Africans who support Palestinian rights, one of the continent’s most popular political causes.

Unsurprisingly, there were widespread celebrations in many African countries on the weekend when Morocco stunned the heavily favoured Portugal team in a 1-0 victory.

On social media, however, the divisions were more evident, with fierce debate about the meaning of Morocco’s victory.

Some Africans expressed joy at seeing the Atlas Lions advancing to the semi-finals. “This is a testimony that Africa is rising and we are a force to be reckoned with,” former Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed tweeted.

“For me it’s a celebration because Morocco eliminated colonizers,” one South African soccer fan said on Twitter.

But others were less happy. Western Saharan activists tweeted that they found it difficult to rejoice for the Moroccan victory when their territory remained occupied. Others voiced their concern about Morocco’s attitude toward the rest of Africa.

Borges Nhamirre, a Mozambican journalist and researcher at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, reacted to the World Cup events by posting a 2019 article from an Arab online media platform with the headline: “Why do Moroccans deny being African?”

The article described “anti-African sentiment” in Morocco, especially on migrant issues. It reported that a bus company had posted a notice requiring any “Africans” travelling to Morocco’s border cities to be subjected to special checks of their identity documents.

Some Moroccans “have forgotten or deliberately decided to forget that they geographically belong to the African continent,” the article said.

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Tocchet underwhelmed by 'soft' play as Canucks suffer humbling loss to Kraken – Sportsnet.ca

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Bedard earns attention, rave reviews at CHL – NHL.com

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LANGLEY, British Columbia — Connor Bedard was the center of attention during the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Langley Events Centre on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old forward with Regina of the Western Hockey League, and projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, had a bit of a home-ice advantage. He grew up about 30 minutes away in North Vancouver.

“I’ll have a good amount of people there,” Bedard said before the game. “I think some relatives. Obviously, my sister, my parents and some buddies for sure. I should have a decent crowd.”

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Tom Bedard, Connor’s father, was relishing the rare chance to see his son in person; Regina is a 20-hour drive.

“My wife (Melanie) actually is in Regina with Connor, so she gets to go to a few more games,” Tom said. “I get out five or six times a year but it’s difficult. It’s nice to have things close to home.”

It was a good show for family and friends. Bedard had a game-high six shots on goal for Team Red in a 4-2 loss to Team White.

The only people watching Bedard as closely as his family was the opposition.

“Keeping him off the scoreboard, that was kind of a team goal,” Team White goalie Scott Ratzlaff said. “Just making sure he’s always covered, making sure we’ve got eyes on him. It was good.”

There was a fair amount of physical play aimed at Bedard, including Team White defenseman Lukas Dragicevic taking a cross-checking penalty against him 20 seconds into the first period. Bedard also had a game-long, trash-talking conversation with Team White defenseman Oliver Bonk.

The frustration led to Bedard taking a penalty for cross-checking Bonk at 16:30 of the third. Bonk said the back-and-forth wasn’t anything malicious, more about the respect for Bedard’s ability to take over a game.

“He’s the best [2005-born player] in the world right now,” Bonk said. “It was good to get him off the ice for two minutes for our guys.”

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is used to physical play and won’t shy away from it. He was a presence in front of Team White’s goal on most of his shifts and had no problem battling in all areas of the ice.

“It’s hockey,” Bedard said. “It’s competitive and you’re allowed to hit so you’ve always got to expect that. It’s a contact sport and you’re going to get hit and you’re going to give hits. That’s part of it and it was good.”

Despite the physical play, Bedard still displayed his game-breaking ability. With Team Red on the power play in the first period, he wheeled through the high slot and fired a shot on net that Ratzlaff saved. Midway through the second, Ratzlaff had to make a spectacular pad save to stop Bedard at the net on a give-and-go with Zach Benson.

“The goalies played well and obviously it would have been nice to see a few go in, but it didn’t happen,” Bedard said.

Ratzlaff also plays in the WHL, for Seattle. Though it was his first time facing Bedard in a game, he knows exactly what he’s capable of doing.

“He’s just so dynamic, and he’s just good from anywhere,” Ratzlaff said. “You think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to commit because he’s going to shoot,’ and then he makes a pass backdoor right on the guy’s tape. So, I think just being ready for anything because he’s just so good and just patient with the puck so he can really create, turn nothing into something.”

Bedard said his focus now returns to Regina, where he leads the WHL in goals (39), assists (42) and points (81). Since being held off the score sheet in the season opener, he has a point in 32 straight games. He’s No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American players presented by BioSteel and almost a certainty to hear his name called first at the 2023 draft at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28.

“When you look, you can see his similarities with his quickness, offensive smarts, that go up to the Connor McDavid level, but then just the pure substance and overall makeup of his game is reminiscent of Sidney Crosby,” said Dan Marr, vice president of Central Scouting. “He’s right up there with those players that are going to be all stars and win a lot of hardware moving forward.”

Bedard has said the draft is something he’ll worry about down the road. Now that all the attention from the Top Prospects Game has passed, he’s focused on helping Regina reach the WHL playoffs.

“I want to win in Regina,” he said. “We’ve been playing well of late, [won] four of the last five, so we want to keep that going and I’m excited to get back and get to work.”

Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class

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Still affected by carjacking, Mitch Marner speaks out on mental health – Sportsnet.ca

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