May 27, 2024

Nouhaila Benzina becomes first to wear hijab in Women’s World Cup game

Morocco defender Nouhaila Benzina created a slice of Women’s World Cup history Sunday, when she became the first player ever to wear a hijab during a game at the tournament.

Benzina, who practice the Islamic faith, started at the center of the backline for the Atlas Lionesses against South Korea in Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium, clad in traditional headwear along with her team’s predominantly white uniforms.

The 25-year-old, who plays for the Association’s Sports of Forces Armed Royal team in her homeland, did not feature in Morocco’s first-ever World Cup match, a 6-0 defeat against Germany on July 24.

However, head coach Reynald Pedros inserted her into the lineup as part of an overhaul with the team chasing its first goal, first point and first win at World Cup. The first of those targets was accomplished on only six minutes, when Ibtissam Jraidi headed home the go-ahead goal with an excellent header at the near post.

Despite its painful start to the tournament, Morocco’s team has been embracing its role in history, as the first Arab nation to be represented in the competition.

The topic of the hijab has been much-discussed in recent years. It remains banned for use in soccer in France, while in Canada, a court case from 2011 in which a young girl took legal action to be allowed to play in a hijab generated international attention.

Benzina has not spoken to the media since arriving in Australia, but her story has been spread to a global audience, even when she remained on the bench in the opening game.

Morocco, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament at No. 72, was seeking to keep alive its hopes of progressing to the second round. 

South Korea, meanwhile, enjoyed history of its own in its first game, when 16-year-old Casey Phair, who lives in New Jersey, became the youngest men’s or women’s World Cup participant ever.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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