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Doha Souq abandons tradition to become World Cup party base

Morocco supporters in Doha's Souq Waqif celebrate their team's qualification for the last 16 of the World Cup
— Doha (AFP)

Thousands of Moroccan fans poured into Doha's oldest market on Thursday to celebrate their country's success in becoming the only Arab nation to reach the World Cup second round.

Crowds gathered around a giant golden thumb sculpture in Souq Waqif market that has become a magnet for fans of winning teams to show national pride.

Argentinian, Tunisian and Saudi fans have also jammed the narrow alleys around the sculpture by French artist Cesar Baldaccini on earlier nights to blow horns, bang drums and make noise.

"I saw Morocco reach the second round in 1986 and now they have done it again," said Yousef Ben Younes, as he danced around the thumb waving the national flag with its green star.

Morocco's 2-1 win over Canada saw them top their group and reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1986.

The feat became a cause for pan-Arab celebration.

Egyptian, Iraqi, Saudi and Lebanese flags were brandished at the celebrations.

Qatar is hosting the first World Cup in an Arab nation, but the hosts along with fellow Arab states Tunisia and Saudi Arabia failed to get past the first round -- even though Tunisia beat France and the Saudis upset Argentina.

"Be happy Morocco!" the crowds chanted as police watched from nearby terraces.

The market, where locals drink coffee, buy spices, Arab robes, gold jewellery and carpets late into night, has become popular despite organisers setting up giant fan zones elsewhere.

Supporters pour in from all over the city. Some of the stadiums are more than 25 kilometres (15 miles) away. The football cacophony often goes on beyond midnight.

Abdel Wahed El-Lahry, a Moroccan living in Doha, said the noisy celebrations in the Souq atmosphere "make me feel like I am at home".

- 'Like at home' -

When Argentinian fans took over the square around the 3.5 metre high thumb, they climbed on the walls of the market buildings and covered them with national flags showing late icon Diego Maradona.

"In a small city like Doha, you have to find a place that is good for gatherings and celebrations," said Farhad, who waved an oversized Iranian flag.

"It should be a place full of life and there is no better place than this souk," added the man, who gave only one name.

Traders reported a roaring trade in World Cup souvenirs and the national flags of the 32 competing nations which can be bought for two dollars.

Shady, who runs a Lebanese restaurant near the sculpture, said "the fan celebrations increase our sales for sure.

"People come and celebrate and get tired and then have to eat," added the man, who also gave one name.

Jannatul Shah, who makes Arab robes in the Souq, said the noise "disturbs" his customers.

"This is a busy night for us and I think the supporters have put off some people."

But he said he understood the celebrations. "This is the World Cup and people need a place to go. We will live with it and Doha will benefit."

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