Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina made history on Sunday by becoming the first player to wear a hijab at a World Cup during her team’s 1-0 victory against South Korea.
The 25-year-old defender was an unused substitute for Morocco’s opening 6-0 defeat against Germany last week but was selected in the starting lineup by Reynald Pedros, the manager, for the crucial match in Adelaide.
The wearing of head coverings for religious reasons was authorised by Fifa in 2014 and Benzina wore a white Islamic headscarf as she played the entire match in a vital victory that kept alive Morocco’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages on their World Cup debut.
Morocco are 55 places below South Korea in the women’s world rankings, but the African side made an early breakthrough with their first World Cup goal in the sixth minute from the striker Ibtissam Jraïdi.
Hanane Aït El Haj whipped in a cross from the right and Jraïdi dived forward to glance home a deft header that went in at the far post.
Park Eun-sun nearly levelled with a diving header of her own at the other end but the forward saw her effort go agonisingly wide of the post, much to the relief of Khadija Er-Rmichi in Morocco’s goal.
Benzina, who plays in Morocco for AS FAR (Association’s Sports of Forces Armed Royal), made some crucial interventions, while she almost scored from a set piece when she volleyed a snapshot over the bar.
She is the first player to wear a hijab at a senior women’s international tournament.
FIFA had previously banned the hijab on health and safety grounds but that was changed in 2014 before the Under-17 Women’s World Cup held in Jordan.
South Korea’s Casey Phair nearly equalised late in the game, but the 16-year-old, who became the youngest player to take the field in Women’s World Cup history in their opener, fired wide to leave them bottom of the group.
Benzina’s historic moment is a significant step forward for women’s soccer and for Muslim women around the world.
It shows that women can wear hijabs and still compete at the highest level of the sport. It is also a sign of progress in terms of religious tolerance and acceptance in the world of sports.
Benzina’s story is an inspiration to many, and it is sure to inspire other Muslim women to pursue their dreams of playing soccer at the highest level.
She is a role model for young girls everywhere, and her story shows that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.