Moroccan team captain Ghizlane Chebbak and coach Reynald Pedros came across as focused and determined as they took questions from reporters the day before their opening World Cup clash with Germany, with Pedros saying via a translator, “We are ready to fight.” Here’s what you need to know:

  • Morocco qualified for its first Women’s World Cup with a runner-up finish in the 2022 African Cup of Nations, eliminating reigning champions Nigeria in the semifinals on penalties.
  • Morocco is the first Arab country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
  • Nouhaila Benzina will be the first player to wear a hijab at a senior women’s football tournament.
  • FIFA authorized playing with head covers for religious purposes in 2014, after banning hijabs in competition in 2007.

The Athletic ’s instant analysis:

What was the mood at the news conference?

The atmosphere from the Moroccan media was intense but excited, with plenty of questions focused on the team’s preparations. Reporters asked Chebbak and Pedros if they were feeling the stress of being at their first World Cup, particularly opening up against former world and European champions Germany.

The Moroccan media focused on team preparations, while some questions from other international reporters skewed political. Chebbak politely did not engage with a question that mentioned Benzina as the first player at a senior tournament to play in hijab, instead directing her answer towards the sense of responsibility the team feels to achieve a result at this World Cup and the inspiration they felt watching the Moroccan men’s team upset teams like Spain and Portugal in Qatar.

In a tense moment, a presenter for BBC World Service asked Chebbak if there are any gay players in the squad given it is illegal in Morocco to have a same-sex relationship. The FIFA moderator immediately stopped the line of inquiry; some members of the Moroccan media were audibly dismayed by the question.

How has Morocco prepared for their debut?

Pedros acknowledged that the players naturally felt stress, but that they have been doing their best in camp not to focus on this being the team’s first World Cup, or first match, and instead focus on their preparation against Germany.

“They all know they’re here at the World Cup,” Pedros said via a translator. “They all know it’s going to be their first game and they are debutantes. But the message for them is that it is something that is extremely positive; it’s going to give us so much experience.”

Chebbak said via translator, “We are not here just to make up the numbers, but to compete.”

“We are honored to be the first Arab country to take part in the Women’s World Cup,” said Chebbak. “We feel that we have to shoulder a big responsibility to show a good image, and to show the achievements that the Moroccan football team has made in terms of progress by qualifying to the (Women’s) World Cup. This is a great milestone for us and we hope that our match with Germany tomorrow will pave the way for other matches.”

Both Pedros and Chebbak said the support from home has been tremendous. Pedros said that everywhere they went to train ahead of the tournament from Austria, to Italy and Switzerland, Moroccan fans showed up to support them. He lauded the Moroccan football federation, FRMF, for their investment in the team since 2020, and said that though they had met the goal they initially set in qualifying for the Women’s World Cup, they want to keep working towards progress and keep bringing in players to develop the program.

Required reading

  • Women’s World Cup live news and updates
  • Women’s World Cup 2023: Guide to Group H
  • Women’s World Cup players are speaking out: Will the disputes be solved or grow?

(Photo: William West / AFP via Getty Images)

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