This, on an individual and team level, is the deepest Women’s World Cup ever. So, while you may know names like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the sport’s many other stars and influential figures – most of whom, but not all of whom, will be in France.
1. Sam Kerr, Australia
We begin with the best player at the tournament. Where else? Kerr has been bagging nearly a goal per game at club level since she was 21. Now 25, she’s the NWSL’s all-time leading scorer by a wide margin, and primed to power an otherwise-somewhat-dysfunctional Australia through the tournament.
Kerr is delightfully direct – almost Aussie Rules-esque – and terrifying with space to run into. She also meets crosses with ferocity. Few female players have ever matched her combination of quickness, technical ability and poacher’s instincts. And she heads a Matildas 11 that is more complete, with more latter-round upside, than ever before – even if there’s plenty of downside as well.
2. Marta, Brazil
The six-time world player of the year, now 33, isn’t the all-powerful wizard she once was. She’s battling a quad injury, and part of a Brazilian team limping to France without a win (or even a draw) since last July. They’ve lost nine straight.
But Marta’s creativity and technical ability remain uninhibited and unparalleled. And this could be our last chance to savor them on soccer’s grandest stage. So cherish the opportunity. Whether Brazil flames out or recaptures its mid-2000s joy, Marta’s brilliance must be celebrated.
3. Amandine Henry, France
Widely considered Europe’s best all-around central midfielder, Henry is France’s heartbeat. (And Lyon’s, too.) She can dictate a game by distributing the ball or retrieving it. And she’s a big reason why the hosts have American fans worried about a potential quarterfinal showdown in Paris.
4. Wendie Renard, France
Renard is as sturdy and as towering (6-foot-2) as center backs come. She also has an amazing backstory.
Born about an hour away from any legitimate town or village on the Caribbean island Martinique, she grew up playing soccer with boys in the parking lot of a housing project, or on the beach with a plastic bottle instead of a ball. She lost her father to cancer when she was 8. She flew to France and joined Lyon as a teen, with locals making fun of her accent and tears rolling down her cheeks.
A decade later, she’s arguably the best defender in the sport, with a nation (or two) at her back as she chases World Cup glory.
5. Eugenie Le Sommer, France
Sensing a theme? Yeah, uh … France is pretty damn good. And Le Sommer is the proven goalscorer, simultaneously crafty and clinical no matter where she’s positioned across the forward line. But a number of other attackers – especially Delphine Cascarino and Kadi Diani – deserve mention.
6. Corrine Diacre, France
So does the boss. Diacre’s career arc has been fascinating. A former French national team captain, she broke into coaching as a Les Bleues assistant and, simultaneously, the manager of the first-division club for whom she’d just played for two decades. Then, at 39, she left both gigs to become the first female to manage a men’s club (Clermont Foot) in France. After three up-and-down seasons in Ligue 2, she was given the top job with the women’s national team – which has won 12 of its last 13 entering its first World Cup on home soil.
7. Dzsenifer Marozsan, Germany
Alright, enough about France. Let’s jump to one of the world’s top playmakers, who … plays her club football in France.
That would be Marozsan, a Hungarian-born No. 10 who is Germany’s captain and creative engine. At 27, she has already won 13 major trophies, including four Champions Leagues (with two different clubs), the Euros and Olympic gold. The only vacant spot on her résumé is the space for “World Cup champion.”
8. Alexandra Popp, Germany
A well-rounded forward who’ll play ahead of Marozsan, and who has helped fuel Wolfsburg’s dominance domestically.
9. Saki Kumagai, Japan
An artist and a metronome. A conductor and a safeguard. A midfielder and a defender, all at once. Kumagai is probably the closest thing the women’s game has to Sergio Busquets – though she’s got a bit of Pirlo and a bit of Bonucci in her as well. For Lyon, she sits in front of the back line, picking up the ball in between center backs or ahead of them. For Japan, she sometimes plays as a center back, but brings the same on-ball qualities.
Her football intelligence is off the charts. Her technical ability can match it, and makes her a lovely watch. (An educational one, too.)
10. Lucy Bronze, England
Another Lyon player! Yep, that’s six of the first nine on this list from the same club. No wonder they recently four-peated as queens of Europe.
Bronze, meanwhile, is also one of the most talented players on the most talented England team ever. The big question: Is she a right back? A midfielder? Something else?
Next up is the man tasked with answering those questions.
11. Phil Neville, England
We mention Neville – yes, the former Manchester United and Everton defender, now women’s national team gaffer – not because he matters, per se, but because we’re not quite sure which England players belong on this list, and … well, neither is he.
The Lionesses head to France with semifinal-or-better expectations that don’t seem unreasonable. But it’s very unclear who the first-choice 11 are or should be. A 1-0 send-off loss to New Zealand did anything but ease concerns. How, for example, will Neville – who was a questionable hire after the controversial ouster of Mark Sampson – find attacking roles for veterans like Jodie Taylor (33, Seattle Reign) and Ellen White (30, Man City) while also taking advantage of younger, brighter talents like Beth Mead (24, Arsenal) and Georgia Stanway (20, Man City)? Not to mention Toni Duggan (27, Barcelona) and …
12. Nikita Parris, England
Parris – another Lyon player, as of last month! – is, for Yahoo Soccer’s money, England’s most exciting attacker. The 25-year-old’s pace and skill terrorize opposing defenders from out wide. She’s one of two forwards who absolutely has to be in Neville’s 11.
13. Fran Kirby, England
The other is Kirby, Who can play up front or in behind a striker. For the national team, she’ll likely be deployed as a No. 10, but a goalscoring one – and one Neville would take over Marta.
14. Lieke Martens, Netherlands
A playmaking winger, the chance-creating catalyst for both club (Barcelona) and country (Netherlands). Remind you of anyone?
Martens is also the co-protagonist in this magnificent Nike commercial:
15. Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands
The Dutch are one of a few high-ceiling, relatively-low-floor teams at this World Cup. They nearly failed to qualify. They only won a single game four summers ago in Canada. But they’re the reigning European champions, and their attacking trident – Martens, 22-year-old Arsenal striker Miedema, and Lyon winger Shanice van de Sanden – is one of a few that can rival that of the United States.
16. Christine Sinclair, Canada
Canada’s ageless wonder is on 181 international goals, three shy of Abby Wambach’s record. There’s also this absurd stat, courtesy of SB Nation’s Kim McCauley:
Christine Sinclair has scored for Canada in 20 consecutive calendar years.
— Kimberly McCauley (@lgbtqfc) May 30, 2019
17. Formiga, Brazil
Speaking of ageless wonders … the 41-year-old Brazilian midfielder is going to her SEVENTH World Cup. Nobody’s ever done that before. And it might be a long time before anybody does it again.
18. Kadeisha Buchanan, Canada
A breakout player at the 2015 World Cup as a 19-year-old, Buchanan has all the physical tools to be a world-class center back. And she might have to be one, like, right now for Canada to make a deep run in France.
(Oh, and if you’re counting at home, that’s now eight Lyon players out of 16.)
19. Wang Shuang, China
China has fallen from the ranks of the women’s soccer elite. But Wang Shuang, its only European-based player, has a game that harkens back to the other ‘99ers. With one of the best left feet in the sport, the PSG attacker is worth your two viewing hours, even if her team isn’t a legitimate contender.
20. Jennifer Hermoso, Spain
Spain can tiki-taka better than ever on the women’s side. It didn’t drop a single point in qualifying. But it’s going to need goals to make noise in France. And it’s going to need them from Jenni, the prolific Atletico Madrid striker with fox-in-the-box instincts to complement the rest of the squad’s technical ability.
21. Kim Little, Scotland
Scotland is the most potent of the four Women’s World Cup first-timers – Jamaica, Chile and South Africa being the others – and Little is a big reason why. The Arsenal midfielder – a former NWSL MVP with the Seattle Reign – fought back from a torn ACL in 2017 only to fracture her fibula in 2018. But she’s healthy for the World Cup, and ready to star.
22. Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, Jamaica
Bunny Shaw lands among our 24 names to know for several reasons. One is, well, her (nick)name – inspired by sizable front teeth and a youthful love of carrots.
Another is her backstory, from Jamaica to a Florida community college to the University of Tennessee to the World Cup. Along the way, she lost three brothers to gang violence, a fourth to an automobile accident, and two nephews as well. But she became the first of a large family to graduate from an American college, and led the Reggae Girlz to their first Women’s World Cup with seven goals in seven qualifiers.
She’s an inspiration, an example of how NCAA women’s soccer has benefited lesser footballing nations, one of several reasons to root for Jamaica.
23. Cedella Marley
Yes, that’s Bob Marley’s daughter. No, she isn’t playing at the World Cup. But Jamaica wouldn’t be here without her.
(And yes, you should absolutely be rooting for Jamaica.)
24. Ada Hegerberg
Hegerberg was the inaugural female Ballon d’Or winner. Yet she won’t be at the World Cup either. Not because Norway didn’t qualify, but because Hegerberg quit the national team in 2017, citing a variety of reasons.
You’ll inevitably hear about her whenever Norway plays. Perhaps even more than you’ll hear about Norway’s other talents – Caroline Graham Hansen, a 24-year-old winger who recently joined Barcelona from Wolfsburg, chief among them. Without Hegerberg, they’re still a quarterfinal threat. But their upside is limited.
In fact, you could argue the two best female footballers on the planet won’t be at the World Cup. Pernille Harder’s Denmark didn’t qualify.
But no matter: With the 20 participants on this list supplemented by the deepest worldwide player pool ever, France 2019 should be the most entertaining women’s soccer tournament ever.
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