The biggest sporting event of 2019 is the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off on June 7 in France. Unlike the players in the men’s version of the tournament, the Women's World Cup Players aren’t quite as recognizable, as they aren’t on TV every day of the week.
But they’re typically much more likable.
The 2018 men’s World Cup had its share of diving from two of the game’s biggest stars (Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar). The stars in Russia last summer were almost all multi-millionaires often out of touch with the fans who help pay their salaries. While soccer fans still adore these players who provide such joy with their abilities, they’re not always the perfect role models.
In contrast, Women's World Cup players are easy to love. They aren’t divas garnering $100 million transfer fees; they play for the love of the game — and much smaller salaries.
So with the big tournament coming up this summer, we thought it important to point out some of the best Women's World Cup players that you might not know now, but you’ll probably be in love with by the time the final whistle blows on the final on July 7.
We’re going to assume you’re already in love with USWNT stars such as Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath — we are, at least — and World Cup veterans like Marta and Christine Sinclair. So we focused on players from across the globe you may not be as familiar with. Plus one USWNT starlet we couldn't leave off.
18 Women's World Cup Players You’ll Fall In Love With
Jody Brown, Jamaica
Jody Brown will be among the youngest Women's World Cup players in France this summer. At 16, she helped Jamaica qualify for its first Women’s World Cup, scoring in extra time against Panama in the third-place match of the Concacaf Women’s Championship.
The winger also had a hat trick against Cuba, totaling six goals in World Cup qualifying. Earlier this year, Brown was named to the Concacaf Female Best XI.
Brown will be 17 by the time the Reggae Girlz kick off their tournament against Brazil on June 9. Jamaica will have a tough task in Group C, which also includes Italy and Australia, but the fact Jamaica made it at all is a feat to celebrate.
Though Brown plays for Jamaica, she lives in Florida and is a student at Montverde Academy, a private school that competes in athletics nationally instead of at the state level like most high schools. Imagine being a high school kid going up against someone who’s about to go to the World Cup.
Erin Cuthbert, Scotland
This eight-second clip is really all you need to know about Erin Cuthbert, Scotland’s precocious 20-year-old midfielder.
The tekkers. @erincuthbert_
— Kitbag (@KitbagUK) December 9, 2018
Scotland qualified for its first European Championship in 2017 and followed that up by qualifying for its first World Cup this summer, with Cuthbert playing a role in both. Cuthbert was huge in World Cup qualifying, scoring four goals as Scotland edged favored Switzerland for top spot in Group 2, including a goal in a 2-1 win over the Swiss.
Cuthbert, who plays for Chelsea, may be Scotland’s youngest player in France, but she could just be its most important.
Manuela Giugliano, Italy
Italy will play in its first World Cup since 1999 and Manuela Giugliano is a big reason why. At 21, she entered 2019 with nearly 50 caps and more than 20 goals from the midfield position.
Giugliano made her senior Italy debut in 2014 at the age of 17 and scored her first Azzurre goal a year later at 18.
Despite her age, the AC Milan No. 10 will be as experienced as anyone on Italy’s squad in France this summer, seeing as how none of her teammates have been to a World Cup before either. However, the Azzurre have been regulars at the European Championships, though they finished last in their group at the most recent edition in 2017.
In what will be one of the more exciting groups (Group C has Australia, Brazil, Jamaica and Italy), keep at eye on Giugliano this summer.
Wendie Renard, France
One of the best defenders in the game (she’s the top-rated CB in FIFA 19, for what that’s worth), Wendie Renard is basically Sergio Ramos if people actually liked Sergio Ramos. She’s quick on her feet and unbeatable in the air, which has led to her prolific scoring rate (for a defender) at both the national team and club level.
Another Lyon star, Renard will be one of the winningest players at the World Cup, having claimed 12 French Division 1 Fémenin titles and five Champions League titles. The one thing Renard is missing is a World Cup, and she could be a key piece as France tries to become the first nation to hold the men’s and Women’s World Cup trophies at the same time.
Asisat Oshoala, Nigeria
Asisat Oshoala is a three-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year recipient — and she’s only 24.
Nigeria qualified for the World Cup by winning its 11th African Women Cup of Nations, albeit the hard way. After losing to South Africa in the group stage of the final tournament, the Super Falcons edged Cameroon and then South Africa, both on PKs, to win the cup. While the defense was stellar, it’ll be up to Oshoala to provide the scoring impetus if Nigeria wants to better its African record of reaching the quarterfinals in 1999.
Oshoala is on the books in China with Dalian Quanjian, but joined Barcelona on loan in January. She scored one goal at the 2015 World Cup when grouped with Sweden, Australia and the United States. The Super Falcons didn’t get any favors when given another tough group for 2019: France, South Korea and Norway.
Lieke Martens, Netherlands
Most women’s football fans should be well aware of Lieke Martens, who in 2017 was named the top women’s player by both UEFA and FIFA. At 26, the 2019 World Cup will be her time to shine with the Dutch national team.
Martens is an attacking midfielder who has thrived since moving to Barcelona in July of 2017. At the national-team level, Martens has 39 goals in 93 appearances with the Leeuwinnen, helping her country win the European Championship in 2017 and the Algarve Cup last year.
Martens scored one goal at the 2015 World Cup at the age of 22, against New Zealand, the Netherlands’ first-ever World Cup goal. The Dutch open their 2019 World Cup campaign against none other than New Zealand, on June 11. You’ll want to be watching Martens.
Samantha Kerr, Australia
Like Martens, any self-respecting women’s soccer fan better know this name by now, but casual fans may not. While Hegerberg won the Ballon d’Or, Kerr might just be the best player in the world right now.
The 25-year-old forward currently plays for both the Chicago Red Stars and Perth Glory. She won the 2017 NWSL MVP award and back-to-back Golden Boots.
Kerr made her Matildas debut at the age of 15, so she’s been around the international game for a decade now. The 2017 AFC Women’s Player of the Year will need to be at her best in the unforgiving Group C (Italy, Brazil, Jamaica).
Also, she can do flips, which is just cool.
Suchawadee Nildhamrong, Thailand
Most Thai players will be completely foreign to U.S. viewers when the two countries face off in their World Cup opener on June 11. Suchawadee Nildhamrong is the exception.
Nildhamrong grew up in California and played college ball for the Cal Bears; the forward was one of her team’s best attacking players over her four years. She received her first Thailand call-up in 2017.
At the AFF Women’s Championship, which doubled as World Cup qualifying, Nildhamrong scored two goals and added three assists. Thailand will be at its second straight Women’s World Cup while the Thai men have never qualified for a World Cup.
Patri Guijarro, Spain
Patricia Guijarro is a star in the making. The midfielder will be 21 by the time La Roja kick off their 2019 World Cup campaign against South Africa on June 8 but she’s already one of Barcelona’s most exciting players.
Guijarro starred for Spain at the U-20 World Cup in August, winning the Golden Ball and Golden Boot, though her team fell short to Japan in the final. She also helped Spain qualify for the World Cup flawlessly, scoring two goals as La Roja won eight out of eight in Group 7. One of the goals was a 91st-minute winner against Serbia.
Honorable mention here to Clàudia Pina, a Spain U-17 player and fellow Barcelona youngster. She might not make the World Cup roster, but she’s definitely one to watch.
Wang Shuang, China
One of the few Chinese players who plies her trade outside of China, Wang Shuang joined Paris Saint-Germain in August of 2018. The 24-year-old midfielder was named 2018 Asian Women’s Footballer of the Year.
Though just 24, Wang already has 88 caps for the Steel Roses, scoring 25 goals in the process. She scored four goals in World Cup qualifying, including a hat trick against Jordan.
Wang might be most notable — at least in the U.S. — for scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the U.S. in December of 2015, which ended a 104-match home unbeaten streak for the recently crowned world champions.
Gaëlle Enganamouit, Cameroon
Cameroon was a big surprise four years ago at its first Women’s World Cup and Gaëlle Enganamouit was a big reason why. She scored a hat trick in a 6-0 win over Ecuador and the Indomitable Lionesses reached the Round of 16 with a win over Switzerland before going out to China.
Cameroon and Enganamouit are back for more and in a group where anything could happen.
The 26-year-old Enganamouit is instantly recognizable on the pitch thanks to her shock of blonde hair. A forward for Avaldsnes in Norway, she was named African Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2015.
What’s more, Enganamouit opened a women’s soccer school in her native town of Yaoundé in January of 2019, helping ensure Cameroon remains one of Africa’s best footballing nations for years to come.
Jordyn Huitema, Canada
At 17 years old, Jordyn Huitema was one of the most exciting players at the 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship, scoring four goals (third best in the tournament) to help Canada finish second behind the U.S.
Huitema made her senior national-team debut at the age of 15 in the 2017 Algarve Cup. She already has six goals in 16 appearances with Canada. Those six goals came in two matches, including four against Cuba at the Concacaf Women’s Championship.
Though she has played with Paris Saint-Germain, Huitema is currently on the books with TSS FC Rovers of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, the second tier of U.S. (and Canada) soccer.
Dzsenifer Marozsán, Germany
Yet another Lyon player on this list, Dzsenifer Marozsán is the heartbeat of the German national team. The 26-year-old team captain made her Germany debut at age 18 after helping Die Nationalelf win the U-17 Euros in 2008 and taking home the U-17 World Cup Silver Ball later that year.
Marozsán scored the winning goal to give Germany its only Olympic gold medal in 2016, but Germany hasn’t won a World Cup since 2007, and would love an opportunity to equal the United States’ record of three World Cup championships. If Die Nationalelf can pull it off, Germany’s No. 10 will be a big reason why.
Yes, Brazil still has Marta. Yes, Brazil still has Debinha. And Poliana, and Tamires. But watch out for Andressinha.
The 23-year-old midfielder is already an NWSL veteran, having played in the U.S. since 2015 for both the Houston Dash and Portland Thorns. She played well as a 19-year-old at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, being named Woman of the Match in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.
In the 2018 Copa América Femenina, which served as World Cup qualifying, Andressinha netted three goals as Brazil cruised to the trophy.
Fran Kirby, England
When healthy, Fran Kirby is one of the best forwards in Europe. The key is, when healthy.
Kirby, 25, got her career off to a roaring start at Reading, scoring better than 1.5 goals per match before moving to Chelsea, where she’s had to fight through injuries. She was named the PFA Women’s Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
With England, she scored in the 2015 World Cup group stage against Mexico, but missed the latter stages of the tournament with injury. Kirby scored two goals to help England qualify for the World Cup top of its group in UEFA.
Let’s hope Kirby can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019 season, so we can see more of her doing this.
Mal Pugh, United States
Mal Pugh, who will be 21 at the World Cup, is our lone USWNT representative on this list. The exciting winger will be close to 50 caps by her 21st birthday, a truly remarkable feat given the quality the USWNT has in the attacking positions.
Pugh was pinpointed at an early age as something special. She was named the U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year award in 2015 and the Gatorade National Female Soccer Player of the Year in 2016. She opted against playing college ball to go straight to the NWSL, where she’s played for the Washington Spirit since 2017.
Pugh has yet to play in a World Cup (she was just 17 during the last one) but she did net a goal in the 2016 Summer Olympics, albeit one of the most disappointing tournaments in USWNT history.
Whether starting or coming off the bench, Pugh will be one of the most exciting (and likable) Women's World Cup players.
Khadija Shaw, Jamaica
At the age of 21, Khadija Shaw was the leading scorer in the entire world during World Cup qualifying. The University of Tennessee striker poured in 19 goals — 19! — in 12 matches, including three at the Women’s Concacaf Championship to help the Reggae Girlz to their first-ever World Cup.
What’s more, Shaw has overcome immense adversity to get to where she is today. She lost four brothers (three to gang-related violence) and was named The Guardian’s Footballer of the Year in 2018.
And with a nickname like “Bunny,” what’s not to love?
Kumi Yokoyama, Japan
Japan no longer has World Cup veterans like Homare Sawa, Yuki Nagasato, Aya Miyama, Shinobu Ono and Kozue Ando, players who helped the Asian nation reach two straight World Cup finals, including the penalty shootout win over the U.S. to win the 2011 World Cup.
While there remains a decent core of veterans, it’ll be up to relative youngsters like Kumi Yokoyama, 25, to carry the load if Japan expects to get out of a challenging group that includes England, Argentina and Scotland.
Yokoyama joined Frankfurt in the Bundesliga in 2017 after scoring a ridiculous 87 goals in 74 matches for AC Nagano Parceiro in Japan. In the 2018 Asian Cup, Yokoyama led Japan in scoring with four goals, including two in the semifinal and the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Australia in the final.
Women's World Cup Players Honorable Mention
Because we had to stay on brand and keep this list to 18, there were plenty of other Women's World Cup players we wanted to include but couldn’t. Here are some of them:
- Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands
- Danielle van de Donk, Netherlands
- Eugenie Le Sommer, France
- Amandine Henry, France
- Sarah Bouhaddi, France
- Rosie White, New Zealand
- Thembi Kgatlana, South Africa