Koalas, swearing and hijabs: unmissable Women’s World Cup moments | Women’s World Cup 2023

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The ninth Women’s World Cup has been a truly extraordinary tournament – and could still reach a Sweet Caroline-soundtracked peak. With so much drama on the pitch, you could be forgiven for missing some of the highlights off it. Here’s our handy round-up of the past month’s mishaps and milestones during play and match adjacent…

Germany’s cursed koala
Before flying to Australia, Germany striker Klara Buehl knitted a cuddly koala wearing team colours. The cute crocheted marsupial became the side’s mascot. Players took turns to look after it and voted to name it Waru (the Aboriginal word for fire). It even appeared in team huddles and sat on the subs’ bench. When the two-time champions shockingly crashed out at the group stage, fans questioned whether Waru was so lucky after all.

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Morocco’s historic hijab moment

Nouhaila Benzina of Morocco stands on the pitch, frowning and hands pressed together, wearing a T-shirt, shorts and hijab
Nouhaila Benzina of Morocco, the first World Cup player to wear a hijab, in Adelaide this month. Photograph: Aitor Alcalde/Fifa/Getty Images

During her team’s win over South Korea, Morocco defender Nouhaila Benzina became the first player in World Cup history to wear an Islamic headscarf. Until 2014, Fifa banned the hijab on health and safety grounds. Benzina is considered a role model for Muslim female footballers. She did them even prouder when Morocco progressed to the knockouts at Germany’s expense – resulting in “an explosion of joy” on the pitch.

Swearing on the pitchside mic

England’s Jill Scott went viral last summer for her lipreadable outburst in the Euros final, telling Germany’s Sydney Lohmann to “Fuck off, you fucking prick!” No deciphering skills were needed when Canadian defender Allysha Chapman left an Australian opponent injured on the turf. She was audible on a pitchside mic, telling the protesting Matildas coach: “She fucking jumped into me, you twat.” “Apologies if any language was picked up there,” said BBC commentator Robyn Cowen sheepishly.

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Star-spangled ban

Naomi Girma, Andi Sullivan and Alex Morgan, in USA sweatshirts, stand unsmiling waiting for the national anthem
Naomi Girma, Andi Sullivan and Alex Morgan of USA line up on 22 July for the national anthem. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Fifa/Getty Images

They went into the tournament as reigning champions but the USA fell short of expectations, failing to reach the quarter-finals. They also caused controversy by choosing not to sing the national anthem before matches. While a handful of players mumbled along to The Star-Spangled Banner, the majority stayed silent in protest at social injustice back home. Typically measured, Donald Trump slammed them as “openly hostile to America”.

Kelly’s heroes

Chiamaka Nnadozie of Nigeria, on the ground, with England’s Chloe Kelly and Alex Greenwood holding her arm and shoulder
Chiamaka Nnadozie of Nigeria is consoled by England’s Chloe Kelly and Alex Greenwood during the England-Nigeria match. Photograph: Naomi Baker/The FA/Getty Images

Nigeria keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie had no chance of saving Chloe Kelly’s match-winning penalty. At 69mph, it was struck more powerfully than any male player managed in last season’s Premier League. As the distraught Nnadozie lay on the pitch, Kelly delayed her celebration to go over and console her, joined by teammates Alex Greenwood and Hannah Hampton. They also waved away TV cameras trying to zoom in on heartbroken Nigerians. Classy sportsmanship.

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Gandalf v goals
World Cup fever even reached altitudes of 36,000ft. An Emirates flight full of Australians tuned in to watch the tense penalty shootout against France. When Cortnee Vine’s decisive spot kick sealed a semi-final spot for the Matildas, the entire cabin erupted in celebration. Well, except one passenger, who calmly continued to watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

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