RABAT, Morocco - Morocco’s Atlas Lionesses have made history by qualifying for the last 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, after beating Colombia and knocking out Germany – on their first-ever appearance at the tournament – and the nation could not be prouder.
The team’s star striker Rosella Ayane described Thursday’s achievement as “an incredible win” and a “fantastic team effort”.
“Coming into the tournament, we knew qualifying from the group would be tough but we worked together and achieved something special for all of Morocco,” Ayane told Al Jazeera.
“It’s amazing to keep creating history. Our World Cup journey continues and we are now focused on the next round vs France,” she said.
Moroccan fans have paid tribute to the athletes and their remarkable journey, as they had already become the first Arab country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. The team also includes Nouhaila Benzina, the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to play at the World Cup.
Hashtags like #DimaMaghrib and #The_impossible_is_not_Moroccan were trending on social media sites as fans expressed their admiration for the team’s exceptional performance.
Writing on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, the Moroccan national football team posted a simple message in Arabic: “The impossible is not Moroccan.”
‘Done the impossible’
Fans were quick to congratulate the team, with many acknowledging the unprecedented win.
“We, Moroccan, keep making history! Congratulations to our Atlas Lionesses for making it to the TOP16,” said X user Mimouni Loubna.
“Lionesses don t know the impossible. Bravo, the ladies of #Morocco,” another user wrote.
Benallal Sadik, another Moroccan supporting the team, paid tribute to his country.
“We have said and will continue to say: Morocco … is an exceptional country. Congratulations to us as Moroccans, Amazing, Arabs, and Africans, on this outstanding achievement,” Sadik wrote in Arabic.
“The Atlas Lionesses have done the impossible – in their first ever WWC participation. Germany on their way home, while the Moroccan fairytale continues,” the Maghrib Foot wrote.
Others took to X to commend Benzina for being the first hijabi to play in the tournament and for inspiring young Muslim women in the region.
Among them was Shaista Aziz, director of the Three Hijabis – campaigners working to make football “equitable”, according to the group’s website.
“The significance of this is HUGE for many #Muslim girls and women including myself,” Aziz wrote on X.
“Nouhaila Benzina became first Muslim woman in hijab to play at World Cup. #France has banned Muslim women in hijab from playing football,” she said.
Morocco will face France in the next round of the tournament, held in Australia and New Zealand.
Last month, the French Football Federation (FFF) banned the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, during games.
France has long implemented laws that defenders say are designed to protect its form of secularism.
“I will post Nouhaila Benzina pic in every french news page,” one Moroccan user wrote. “Haters gonna hate.”
The success of the Atlas Lionesses comes after a similar run by their male counterparts at last year’s men’s World Cup.
The Atlas Lions advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 1986 and became the first African or Arab nation to reach the semifinal. Despite a spirited performance they lost to France and did not make it to the final round.
Some Moroccans are hoping that the national team may be luckier the second time around.
“The Atlas Lionesses with chance to avenge the men’s semi-final defeat in Qatar,” Tom Yousef Drissi, a Moroccan user, wrote on X.