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Morocco's players celebrate after winning the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 10.The Associated Press

Time was, writers and artists from Europe and North America found inspiration in Morocco. From Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets, they went there for the weather, the drugs, the landscape and sheer exoticism of the place. Twain wrote that in Morocco he and his wife found, “Nothing to remind us of any other people or any other land under the sun.”

Now everybody is on the Morocco bandwagon, with an enthusiasm unmatched since Crosby, Stills and Nash sang Marrakesh Express with gusto back in 1969. At this World Cup in Qatar, the Morocco team has awed the watching world, now the last African team in the competition, representing Africa and the Arab world. It faces world champion France in a semi-final and, while the odds are long, it could be in a World Cup final. No matter what happens, it is in the final four.

Did this happen out of nowhere? Well, yes. Nobody paid attention to Morocco in advance. In Canada, it was widely considered that Morocco was the one team that the Canadian men’s team could beat. How naive.

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How and why Morocco is succeeding is a complicated matter. It doesn’t play entertaining soccer of endless attack with silky ball skills. It defends, possesses the ball for short periods and scores on quick counterattacks. As every pundit now explains, manager Walid Regragui commands his team to use a 4-1-4-1 formation. The four at the back rarely venture forward, and the one player in front of them, midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, hardly ever leaves the space around him, concentrating on stopping the other side before it even encounters the defenders. The four-man midfield also sits deep. This is not, however, quite the “parking-the-bus” tactic that some teams use to nullify attacking opponents. This bus roars to life and surges forward when, and only when, there’s a direct route to goal.

It’s collectivist soccer at its best; there’s a unity of purpose and the group is given priority over each individual. And it’s not unique. A disciplined and co-operative Greek team won Euro 2004, relying on defence and occasional goal scoring from set pieces. Former Italy manager Giovanni Trapattoni famously observed, “Greece won the Euro with three free-kicks and one corner kick.”

What’s unusual and complicated is that Morocco relies on its diaspora – Morocco is a country of 37 million, but 14 of their 26 players were born elsewhere. That means several of the players could have played for the country of their birth, but didn’t. Now, this in itself is far from unique. England’s Declan Rice and Jack Grealish both played as teenagers for the Republic of Ireland, the country of their parents or grandparents, but opted to play for England when offered the opportunity.

What makes the Morocco situation truly different is that unlike Rice and Grealish, who chose more money, exposure and stardom with England, one of Morocco’s best players, Chelsea midfielder Hakim Ziyech, was called up to play for the Netherlands, where he was born, at senior level, but chose instead to play for the country of his parents.

Thus, you can speculate, one key factor in Morocco’s success is the sense of unity shared by players from the diaspora. Their loyalty is to their family’s place of birth, not to the country where they, as players, might have faced racist abuse on the field, and their parents faced hostility or racism as immigrants. Grudges like that don’t ease until generation after generation has relaxed into life in the country their parents or grandparents fled to, and where they lived in ghettos doing the low-paid work that immigrants do. In such circumstances, Moroccan identity is a solace and an emotionally unifying force. Ideal conditions for the collectivist approach.

Morocco’s success has been drenched in strong emotions about family and home. Remember when Canada’s team was negotiating compensation for appearing at this World Cup? A key item on the agenda was a friends-and-family travel package to Qatar. Boy, does that matter with Morocco. The mothers of the Moroccan national team have grabbed the spotlight as, after several matches, scenes or pictures of the players kissing their mothers’ heads or dancing and hugging them has garnered as much attention as the goals and victories.

Moms leave the stands to celebrate with their sons on the field. Manager Regragui has made a habit of wading through the supporters to find and embrace his mother, a woman who worked for years as a cleaner at the Orly airport in Paris, where the manager as born. Whatever money Morocco spent on bringing families to Qatar was well spent. There is nothing complicated about the connection between a mother and son, but it is all part of the complex fuel that drives this Morocco team to extraordinary heights.