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Meet Morocco’s Atlas Lionesses, Ready to Roar in the 2023 Women’s World Cup

Some of the world’s best football teams are gearing up for this year’s Women’s World Cup, set to take place in Australia and New Zealand between 20 July and 20 August this year.

This 2023 tournament, which first began in 1991, will boast teams from all corners of the globe vying for the coveted title.

This year, the Moroccan women’s team will make history with their first ever appearance in the global competition.

The Atlas Lionesses, who are ranked 72nd in the world, are also the only team from the Middle East and North Africa region.

They earned their spot at the FIFA World Cup thanks to their stellar performance at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations last year, where they finished second after losing the final to South Africa.

Their performance won the hearts of Moroccan football fans and media, following their male counterparts’ jaw-dropping progress to the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in Qatar last year.

Who are Morocco’s Lionesses?

The team is led by striker Ghizlane Chebbak, who plays for top team Association Sportive des Forces Armées Royales (AS FAR). She made her debut for the Atlas Lionesses in 2018 and is also Morocco’s all-time top scorer, with 21 goals in 56 appearances.

The 31-year-old is the daughter of former Morocco international Larbi Chebbak and known for her agility. She won the Player of the Year award in Morocco five times.

The team features another star player, Tottenham Hotspurs’ Rosella Ayane, who played a significant role during Morocco’s run at the Women’s AFCON last year.

UK-born Ayane previously played for the England U-17 and U-19, before switching to Morocco at a senior level in 2021.

Meanwhile, AS FAR’s Nouhaila Benzina will make history in the competition for being the first hijab-wearing player at a World Cup.

A ban on the Muslim headscarf was imposed by FIFA in 2007, but was subsequently lifted in 2014.

Benzina is expected to become a source of representation for hijabi-wearing women and girls worldwide, particularly in light of the footballing body’s problematic history with the Islamic veil.

The squad will also feature Ibtissam Jraidi who also made her Moroccan debut in 2018 and plays for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahly.

Like their male counterparts, the Morocco team is composed of many foreign-born players who chose to represent the North African country instead of their country of birth.

Among them is Sampdoria midfielder Sabah Sghir, who was born in Paris suburb of Colombes.

Elodie Nakkach, who plays for Swiss team Servette, midfielder Anissa Lahmari and Spain-based Yasmin Mrabet are also among the team’s Europe-born players.

 14 out Morocco’s 23-player squad compete in overseas football leagues – notably in France, Spain and Belgium – while the majority of Morocco’s home-based players are with the Rabat team AS FAR.

The Atlas Lionesses saw a rapid turnaround under the French coach Reynald Pedros who took over in 2021. Previously, the Moroccan squad had failed to reach the group stages of major competitions.

The team particularly impressed during the Women’s AFCON competition last year, which saw them beat defending champions Nigeria in a thrilling penalty shoot-out on home soil.

Drawn in Group H, the Lionesses will face stiff competition from Colombia, South Korea and former champions Germany during group stage matches.

The Atlas Lionesses will first face third-ranked Germany next Monday, followed by bouts against their remaining group stage competitors on 30 July and 3 August.

Current World Cup winners the US are the hot favourites to lift the trophy having won in 2019 and 2015.

Source : The New Arab