FIFA Women’s World Cup: Morocco Makes history, again
Morocco made another historic World Cup run. This time, the women reached uncharted territory in the Women’s World Cup, making it all the way to the knockout stages before falling to familiar foe France, 4-0 in Australia yesterday.
However, the loss was overshadowed by the string of victories and stroke of history made by the Atlas Lionesses – the first Arab and Amazigh-majority team to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Making history in more ways than one, Morocco fielded the first head-scarved player in World Cup history – Nouhaila Benzina. The defender donned the hijab competed before a society that views her image as a pariah on the football pitch, and in public spaces beyond it. On brand and on time, French journalists began deriding Morocco and their head-scarved taliswoman Benzina as “regressive,” evoking the dialectic of colonialism and gendered Islamophobia tying both nations.
The image of Benzina, clad with hijab and the red and green of her nation, competing against the laws and laicite of a French government that marginalises was itself a victory. A victory that, years from now, will be remembered far more than the score of a single match.
''In between posts poles of football history, Morocco broke another important barrier in its second match. Against South Korea, Benzina became the first professional footballer to wear a hijab when she took the pitch on 1 August. The defender, who donned the headscarf while shoring up the backline for Morocco, was praised by many and derided by more – beyond an even within Muslim communities.''
This resilience, political and otherwise, stood as a hallmark of this Moroccan team. It was the central thread of a tapestry of women who hailed from distinct backgrounds to make a team, and then make history.
Morocco entered the 2023 Women’s World Cup as the first Arab and Muslim-majority nation to qualify for the tournament. Its foray into history, however, began disastrously.
Germany, a perennial powerhouse, welcomed the Atlas Lionesses with a merciless beatdown, scoring six goals against Morocco’s zero.
Things fell apart for Morocco but went to script for oddsmakers who picked the German team to finish at the top of Group H and Morocco at the bottom. That script, however, did match the word and way of history being written on the Women’s World Cup fields in Australia.
Ten days later, Morocco made a miracle out of history, advancing to the knockout stages of the World Cup and sending the Germans home. Nobody expected either of those results, but Morocco – the men and now the women – have a knack for converting the football pitch into a field of dreams.
The Moroccan women picked themselves up after the German defeat to beat heavily favoured South Korea, 1-0, earning the first Women’s World Cup victory in that nation’s history. Morocco entered the match raked 77th in the world, while South Korea held the 16th spot. It was a major upset, and the three points earned kept Moroccan aspirations of advancing into the knockout stages alive, to be determined by the final stage face-off against the formidable Colombian team.
In between posts poles of football history, Morocco broke another important barrier in its second match. Against South Korea, Benzina became the first professional footballer to wear a hijab when she took the pitch on 1 August. The defender, who donned the headscarf while shoring up the backline for Morocco, was praised by many and derided by more – beyond an even within Muslim communities. The moment was a momentous one, for Morocco and the sport at large, particularly because women’s football and the World Cup maintained a hijab ban until 2014.
Morocco did not concede a single goal in its next two matches.
The South American favourite Colombia, ranked 26th in the world, stood between Morocco and making more history. Just like its previous two opponents, Germany and South Korea, the oddsmakers picked Morocco to lose. But just like their brothers in Qatar, the Atlas Lionesses refused to bow to the odds and instead, bowed to God after earning another unexpected victory.
Anissa Lahmari scored before the conclusion of the first half, and Morocco held on to beat Colombia 1-0. Colombia would win Group H, and Morocco had to wait to know their fate. The result of the South Korea versus Germany match, which was played at the same time, would determine who would advance.
The team collected on the field, waiting for the final whistle to blow in a 1-1 stalemate between the Germans and South Koreans. That result, if it held up, would deliver Morocco to the next stage. It did, and the scenes inside of Nib Stadium in Perth, Australia, made for stunning theatre. The Moroccan women celebrated with unfiltered emotion and joy, embracing one another while others bowed their heads in prayer.
The scene was reminiscent of the iconic images from Qatar, when the Moroccan men danced with their mothers and unabashedly displayed their Muslim faith on the highest sporting stage. Comparisons surely will follow, the colours and kits, federation and nation are all one in the same. But the history made in Australia was entirely written by the Moroccan women, with a football grit and resilience that was all their own.
Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He is also the author of The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims. Follow him on his socials at @khaledbeydoun.
Follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @khaledbeydoun
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