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Morocco's Nesryne El Chad, centre, celebrates with fans after a Women's World Cup match against Colombia, in Perth, Australia, on Aug. 3.Gary Day/The Associated Press

Morocco beat Colombia 1-0 to make it to the Women’s World Cup knockout round, creating more history in a dramatic conclusion to the group stage of the 2023 tournament.

Morocco is the first Arab or North African nation to qualify for the Women’s World Cup and now the first to advance beyond the group stage. That’s something none of the other seven newcomers managed to do.

The victory also meant Morocco qualified in second place in the group, behind Colombia, and knocked two-time champion Germany out of the tournament. No. 2-ranked Germany needed a win over South Korea in a game being played simultaneously in Brisbane, but was held to a 1-1 draw.

The Moroccan players and coaching staff gathered on the pitch after full-time in Perth to watch the end of the Germany-South Korea game in Brisbane, which still potentially had a hand in their World Cup fate.

“We had the phone and we started praying. We were praying while we were watching the game,” said midfielder Anissa Lahmari, who scored Morocco’s goal in first-half stoppage time. “Afterwards it was just a complete explosion of joy.”

If Morocco’s qualification for the Women’s World Cup inspired a generation, this run to the knockout stage will cement a legacy for the Atlas Lionesses.

The Moroccans were trounced 6-0 by Germany in their debut game in the tournament, but bounced back with consecutive wins.

The win over South Korea on the weekend was historic for the team, for Ibtissam Jraidi scoring the Atlas Lionesses’ first World Cup goal, and for another significant milestone – defender Nouhaila Benzina became the first player to wear a Hijab in a World Cup game at the senior level.

The game against Colombia was an even contest right through the first half until Jraidi was fouled in the penalty area in the dying seconds before the break. Ghizlane Chebbak’s penalty attempt was saved, but Lahmari swooped on the rebound to put her team ahead of Colombia – and, just as importantly, the Germany team playing on the other side of the country.

Colombia had its best scoring chance in the 59th minute, when its 18-year-old superstar, Linda Caicedo, served a ball to the far post, which Daniela Montoya one-timed to the left of goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi. The Moroccan keeper made a reflex kick save, blocking the ball with just the front edge of her right cleat.

In the 69th, Caicedo, after a long run, stopped and leaned on the field barrier, reaching down to her left ankle and foot. She appeared hobbled for several minutes but stayed in the match.

Why it matters

Moroccan soccer fans have had plenty of celebrate with their national teams at the most recent World Cups. The Atlas Lionesses had created history just by qualifying, and then just by scoring their first win. Beating Colombia to knock Germany out of the tournament was completely unexpected by most.

Morocco’s men’s team also made World Cup history last year. In the 2022 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 a World Cup semi-final.

Colombia wins its group for the first time in team history and is in the knockout rounds for the first time since 2015.

In their own words

Morocco’s fans “are going to support us one more time. We love them, we cherish them, we feel they’re behind us. It gives us strength. Well done to all the girls and we’re continuing on our merry way.” – Reynald Pedros, Morocco coach.

“It was an intense game and a very strategic game. We lost because of a mistake we made in the goal area, with the penalty.” – Nelson Abadia, Colombia coach.

What’s next

Morocco, as the Group H runner-up, will play Group F winner France in Adelaide on Tuesday. Colombia will play Group F runner-up Jamaica the same day in Melbourne.

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