If you're not yet clued up on who to keep an eye on when the Women's World Cup kicks off on Saturday, look no further than FFT's handy guide of the top nations' brightest bulbs in Canada. There's a long-distance lobbing Japanese star, Spain's most exciting talent, France's 'Ziza' of Algerian descent and former Marseille fame, and England's great hope up front...
1) Erin McLeod (32, Canada)
The World Cup hosts will be counting on McLeod’s leadership from the back as they take on China, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The Houston Dash goalkeeper has amassed 104 caps for the Canada national team since her debut in 2002, and was also part of the team that beat France to bronze at the London 2012 Olympics. Fearless, mentally strong and a natural leader, this will be McLeod’s fourth appearance at a World Cup and her experience will be key if her team are to go far. The 32-year-old is also an ambassador for a wide range of commendable causes, and a role model to young girls around the world.
2) Stephanie Catley (21, Australia)
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Heading into her first-ever World Cup and with a reputation that's grown leaps and bounds in recent years, Catley represents the new generation of young and promising Australian footballers.
The Portland Thorns full-back made her debut for hometown club Melbourne Victory as a 15-year-old midfielder but has really blossomed since making a switch to defence in 2011.
Tough in the tackle and possessing a powerful left foot, Catley’s performances down the flank earned her plenty of rave reviews and awards back home, and ultimately her move Stateside. Due to return to Portland after the World Cup, the 21-year-old will be hoping to make as much of an impact in Canada as team-mate Caitlin Foord did at Germany 2011.
3) Nahomi Kawasumi (29, Japan)
The INAC Kobe Leonessa winger is an integral part of a Japan team looking to defend their 2011 title. The Nadeshiko became the first Asian team to win the Women’s World Cup after defeating the USA on penalties, with Kawasumi doing her bit by scoring twice in a 3-1 win against Sweden in the semi-finals. Many Japan fans will remember her second effort in particular, as the diminutive forward struck a sweetly balanced 35-yard lob over Hedvig Lindahl to kill off the contest. Can she repeat such heroics again this June? Kawasumi will point to her recent experience playing for Seattle Reign on loan from INAC last year, a stint which saw her score nine goals in 20 appearances and clinch two NWSL Player of the Week nominations.
4) Vero Boquete (28, Spain)
Veronica Boquete is an icon for Spanish women’s football right now. She made history as the first Spanish player to win the Women’s Champions League with Frankfurt, who beat PSG 2-1 in the final. The 28-year-old has since signed for Bayern Munich, and will link up with the Frauen-Bundesliga champions after the World Cup. Spain will be contesting their maiden World Cup tournament after an impressive qualifying campaign, and FIFA Women’s Player of the Year nominee Boquete will definitely be one of their stars in a relatively young side. Watch out for the forward runs, when her superb dribbling skills will come into play.
5) Louisa Necib (28, France)
Labelled the 'Female Zidane' by the French press, Necib has more in common with Zizou than just her Algerian ancestry and Marseille upbringing. The attacking midfielder has a silky touch on the ball, unparalled vision and sublime passing skills, making her a genuine threat in the final third. In a nutshell, Ziza is widely regarded as one of the most technically proficient female footballers on the planet. France will be hoping to improve on their fourth-place finish from 2011, and the Lyon star will be key to their chances of making the final. Whatever happens, the 28-year-old will be pulling the strings from midfield and creating opportunities for the three French strikers in front of her.
6) Celia Sasic (26, Germany)
If goals are what you need, look no further than Sasic. The German net-buster has been the Frauen-Bundesliga top scorer for the last two seasons, scoring 33 goals in 31 games for Frankfurt. Last season she led the team to the UEFA Women’s Champions League title, top scoring with a handy 14 goals. Her record for the national team isn’t too shabby either, with 57 strikes in 104 appearances. The prolific Sasic was born to a Cameroonian father and a French mother, and gained German citizenship in 2004. She made her national debut aged 16 and hasn’t looked back, and is most certainly a deadly one to watch in Canada.
7) Christen Press (26, USA)
With Alex Morgan nursing an injury going into this World Cup, Press could very well seize the chance to be the United States’ new golden girl on the world’s biggest stage. The Chicago Red Stars forward has scored goals wherever she’s been, and spent two years in the Swedish Damallsvenskan with Goteberg and Tyreso before returning to America in 2014. Press has been prolific while donning the Stars and Stripes too, netting twice on debut in 2013 and going on to register eight goals in her first 12 matches. She now has 20 strikes to go with her 45 caps and will be looking to add plenty more come this June. Opponents beware.
8) Lara Dickenmann (29, Switzerland)
Say what you will about being a jack-of-all-trades, Dickenmann’s versatility is a big bonus for the Swiss. The Ohio State product can operate as a midfielder or a full-back on either flank, and is nearing a century of caps for Switzerland after debuting as a 16-year-old. Dickenmann has been with French giants Lyon since 2009 and recently won the Double, but will be moving on to VfL Wolfsburg. Her presence should help Switzerland in their first appearance at a major tournament, not just for her experience but her ability to both create and score goals in abundance. Simply, Dickenmann is one of Europe’s best players.
9) Marta (29, Brazil)
Marta is no stranger to women’s football enthusiasts. A five-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year winner, she has been continuously nominated for the last 10 years and is probably the most famous female footballer of all time. The FC Rosengard forward is participating in her fourth World Cup and eyeing the outright all-time Women’s World Cup goal record, which she currently shares with Birgit Prinz on 14 goals. Despite having qualified for every World Cup so far, Brazil have yet to win it. Marta, the Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner in 2007, will have a huge part to play if they are to make history this time around.
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10) Eniola Aluko (28, England)
The older sister of Hull City forward Sone Aluko, Eni decided to represent England instead of her native Nigeria. She made her senior debut aged 17, and has gone on to accrue 90 caps for her adopted country. With an eye for goal and pace to burn, the Chelsea attacker is England’s biggest goal threat and will likely line up alongside Toni Duggan in the forward line. Aluko’s 13 strikes in 10 World Cup qualifiers on the road to Canada showcased her potency in front of goal, and England will need plenty more of that if they're to upset more vaunted opposition at this World Cup.
11) Nilla Fischer (30, Sweden)
Fischer has appeared in excess of 120 times for Sweden and is considered one of the best central defenders in the world. Surprisingly enough, she has played most of her career as a defensive midfielder and only made the switch to defence in 2013 at the behest of current Sweden coach Pia Sundhage. It’s a move that’s paid dividends, with Fischer arguably at the peak of her career at the moment. She was nominated for the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award in 2013 and 2014, and was second-top scorer with three goals as Sweden reached the Euro 2013 semi-finals on home soil. On the club front, Fischer has captained VfL Wolfsburg ably in Nadine Kessler’s absence, leading them to the DFB-Pokal trophy this season.
Continental continues to support the growth of women's football in England. From grassroots sponsorship and community programmes, to the FA WSL, women's FA Cup and England Women's team, Continental is committed to providing a pathway for the next Duggan, Aluko or Carney.