The most exciting youngsters you need to know at the Women's World Cup
The World Cup: a time for celebrating football every day, knockout excitement... and going mental about the next generation of stars.
It's often the case that good tournaments can earn players big moves, and while that might not translate so freely to the women's game, the world's biggest clubs are always on the hunt for the stars of tomorrow who can get stuff done today. Here's 11 players aged 23 and under who could turn heads...
Morgan Brian (22, USA)
If you've followed any of the last World Cups, you'll probably recognise the core of USA’s team this time around: 33-year-old Hope Solo is still in goal; 39-year-old Christie Rampone will shore up the defence and 34-year old Abby Wambach will lead the attack. One new face you should watch out for, though, is Morgan Brian. The Houston Dash midfielder is the youngest player in the squad at 22, but already has 29 appearances and four goals to her name – all while combining her international career with studying at university the last four years, only playing for her college side. With good technique, speed, attitude and awareness, Brian impresses with the maturity and effectiveness of her game. Her youthful dynamism from midfield could be the decisive factor for an ageing USA to go all the way this summer.
Ada Hegerberg (19, Norway)
Still only 19 years old, Hegerberg has already starred in an international tournament when Norway made it to the final of the European Championship two years ago. At club level she is now with her fourth team, and scored 26 times in 21 games in her debut season for French champions Lyon. Hegerberg’s facts are remarkable, but then so is her game. The Norwegian is tall and strong, but still quick and very mobile.
Her touch is top class, while her most impressive ability (given her age) might be her intelligence: bringing team-mates into play and moving smartly in the final third; drifting away and then attacking the right areas with force and fine timing. On track to become the best centre-forward in the world, Hegerberg is more than ready to make a big impression this summer.
Mana Iwabuchi (22, Japan)
Typing Iwabuchi's name into YouTube brings up a video titled 'The Female Messi' - and somehow you can understand where it's coming from. Iwabuchi has wonderful technique, blisteringly quick feet and eye-catching dribbling skills; she is adept at quickly changing pace and direction, and has the confidence to go directly for goal. In her first season at German giants Bayern Munich, the 22-year-old helped her side seal the Bundesliga title. Despite her development abroad, however, don't expect Iwabuchi to start too many games for Japan during the summer – head coach Norio Sasaki still relies heavily on the team that won the title in 2011. Instead, the young forward's role will be to liven up things from the bench, using the experience in preparation for a more prominent role that awaits in the future.
Asisat Oshoala (20, Nigeria)
Asisat 'Superzee' Oshoala might not be the best player in the world yet, but there isn't a more exciting player in the game today than the 20-year-old Nigerian attacking midfielder-cum-striker. With her awesome physique, speed and size (5ft 10in), not to mention smooth technique and an unfailing ability for finding the net, there really are no limits to Oshoala’s potential. 2014 was particularly spectacular for the Liverpool player – she was voted player of the tournament while leading Nigeria to the final of the U20 World Cup, and won the inaugural BBC Women's Footballer of the Year award (beating off competition from Marta & Co.). Now she will look to the World Cup to establish herself as the next superstar in the women’s game.
Jordan Nobbs (22, England)
Archetypal 1980s hardman Keith Nobbs didn't let broken bones nor knocked-out teeth get in his way when it came to representing his beloved Hartlepool United. Much of the same toughness and attitude can be found in his daughter, 22-year-old England midfielder Jordan. But, of course, there's much more to the Arsenal midfielder's game than pure grit – there's her vision, quick feet and assuredness on the ball, not to mention her trademark powerful shooting from distance. Nobbs leads the way for the next generation of English players, and the young vice captain is simply too good to be sitting on the sidelines in Canada – which means England coach Mark Sampson has some serious thinking to do about how to compose a midfield that already contains the highly experienced trio of Katie Chapman, Fara Williams and Jill Scott.
Fran Kirby (21, England)
There will be few more gripping life stories at the World Cup than that of Kirby. After battling depression due to a family tragedy in her teens, Kirby quit the game for two years between 17 and 19 before former club Reading (in the second tier) persuaded her to make a comeback. Repaying the faith since then, the 21-year-old has banged in well over a goal a game for her side and shunned every offer to move up a division, thus becoming the first-ever second division player called up for England duty.
That Kirby is a prodigious talent is beyond doubt: clinical in front of goal, she is constantly harassing the opposing defence with her industry, technique and tight dribbling skills. The question now is how she will adapt to the huge step up in quality that the World Cup represents for her – a dilemma England coach Sampson will probably solve through giving her a more limited super-sub role.
Emily van Egmond (21, Australia)
Canberra United, Fortuna Hjörring in Denmark, Western New York Flash, Seattle Reign, Chicago Red Stars. And now Newcastle Jets, for the fourth time. Twenty-one-year-old Emily van Egmond’s senior career might still be young – even though she debuted in the Australian W-League at 15, and for the national team at 17 – but it hasn't been short of action. Thankfully for Van Egmond, the same amount of attitude and bravery she has shown in her career choices is also visible in her well-rounded midfield game. Playmaker Katrina Gorry (Asian Player of the Year in 2014) and goalscorer Samantha Kerr might be the poster girls of the next generation of Australian players, but no one embodies the character needed for the Westfield Matildas to make an impact in Canada better than their young linchpin.
Daniëlle van de Donk (23, Netherlands)
While their male counterparts have adopted a more defensive style over the last years, expect the Netherlands' women’s team to showcase a more traditional Dutch brand of open, attacking football.
At the heart of their attack will be the 23-year-old attacking midfielder Van de Donk. Skilful, mobile, fleet of foot and with a fine eye for a killer pass, the FCE/PSV midfielder has to be at her very best if the Netherlands are to do any damage in the tournament. Smart on and off the field, Van de Donk enjoys painting in her free time, and – fittingly for a Dutch playmaker – studies sport management at the Johan Cruyff University.
Vivianne Miedema (18, Netherlands)
The top scorer in World Cup qualification wasn't one of the household names from a big nation but an 18-year-old from a largely unheralded Dutch team. Perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise – Miedema has already shown herself to be a serious threat in front of goal: after top-scoring in the 2013/14 BeNe league for Heerenveen with 41 goals in 26 games, she helped her new side Bayern Munich lift the Bundesliga title with seven goals in 12 starts. Miedema didn't take long to acclimatise to the international game either, scoring a 15-minute hat-trick in her second appearance for the Dutch team. The 18-year-old isn't one to dominate games, but the Netherlands will be counting on the crispness of her first touch and all-round finishing qualities with both feet as they try to stage an upset this summer.
Dzsenifer Marozsán (23, Germany)
Already one of the very best players on the planet and still only 23, Germany’s Marozsan has plenty of time to get even better. The daughter of a Hungarian national team player, she has always been an exceptional talent, debuting in the Bundesliga at the age of 14 and scoring her first goal as a 15-year-old.
She helped Frankfurt to the Champions League title just a month ago, and after starring in Germany’s win at Euro 2013, the World Cup is the only trinket missing for the playmaker. Physically strong, technically gifted and boasting a superb right foot, Marozsan’s ability to play to equal effect as a striker or midfielder also reveals the level of her intelligence. With midfield general and Ballon d’Or champion Nadine Kessler out injured for Germany, expect Marozsan to dictate Germany’s game from a deeper position in Canada.
Jennifer Cramer (22, Germany)
Germany will take a younger squad to the World Cup than most of their rivals for the title – but one that nonetheless has plenty of experience of playing and winning at the very top of the game.
Left-back Cramer fits into that profile perfectly, with a winner's medal from Euro 2013, a Champions League runners-up spot with her Bundesliga team Turbine Potsdam and two Frauen-Bundesliga titles in her personal cabinet. Playing-wise, Cramer is also a good example of what the current German side is about, demonstrating good speed and energy down the flank, functional technique and tactical knowledge (being able to operate in either her original midfield position or at full-back).
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.