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Ranked! The 50 best women's football players ever

Ranked! The 50 best women's football players ever
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Some of the best women's football players ever have flourished in recent years, as women’s game continues to attract more supporters at a rapid pace – but its rich history shouldn’t be ignored. Whether it be close to home or around the world, the sport has seen some incredibly talented players and here we pay tribute to the finest.

Ranking the top 50 players in women’s football, we look at those from around the world who have not only enjoyed success on a domestic and international level, but whose individual talents have wowed supporters across the years. Whether it be big game players or those who produced a single memorable moment, this list is a reminder of how many world-class players the women’s game has seen over the years, and offers an exciting glimpse into what we may see in the future as the sport continues to develop.

From Europe to North America and Africa to Oceania, all parts of the world have played witness to some of the best women’s footballers at some point in the sport’s history. Here we try to piece together the definitive top 50...

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Best women's football players ever: 50. Eugénie Le Sommer

Eugénie Le Sommer

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The top scorer in the history of both Lyon and France, Eugénie Le Sommer is one of the greatest goalscorers of her generation. 

Able to score tap ins or screamers from distance, Le Sommer has contributed to a Lyon side where she won ten league titles in a row and seven Champions Leagues. 

49. Patrizia Panico

Patrizia Panico epitomises an era where Italian domestic football was up there with the best. Panico won ten league titles as well as an incredible 14 Golden Boots with her goal-scoring exploits. 

Yes, 14. With 107 goals in 196 caps, Panico was never able to help Italy pass the bigger nations but has a well-earned place in the Italian Hall of Fame.

48. Carolina Morace

Just like Panico, Carolina Morace is one of Italy’s greatest goalscorers and also like Panico, didn’t get the chance to win the amount of silverware some of her compatriots on this list did, internationally at least. 

Morace scored over 500 league goals and won the Golden Boot an incredible 11 seasons in a row. She scored the first-ever World Cup hat-trick and ended her career with 105 goals in 153 caps for Italy.

47. Therese Sjögran

One of Sweden’s finest, Therese Sjögran is tied with Birgit Prinz as the European player with the most international caps at 214. 

She still leads the way for Sweden years after retirement and took part in four World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic Games, as well as winning five domestic league titles.

46. Perpetua Nkwocha

Former captain of the Nigeria women’s national team, Perpetua Nkwocha certainly has a claim to be the best African player ever. 

An explosive player who scored 80 goals in 99 games, Nkwocha was the face of Nigerian football. She won five African Women’s Championships, was named African Player of the Year four times and played at multiple World Cups and Olympic Games.

45. Ann Kristin Aarønes

Ann Kristin Aarønes

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Ann Kristin Aarønes may be one of the lesser known names on this list, but her contribution to one of the greatest success stories can’t be diminished. 

Aarønes won the Golden Boot when Norway won the 1995 World Cup and was an all-star team member four years later. Aarønes scored 60 goals in just 111 caps for her country and domestically also picked up five league titles.

44. Silvia Neid

More well-known to newer fans of the sport as the long-time head coach of the Germany national team, Silvia Neid also enjoyed a highly successful playing career. 

As part of a Germany side which won three European Championships between 1989 and 1995, Neid won seven Bundesliga titles during a successful domestic period, too.

43. Bettina Wiegmann

Bettina Wiegmann is another of the greats from a dominant era of German success. 

An all-action midfielder who also managed 51 goals in 154 caps for her country, Wiegmann won four European Championships between 1991 and 2001, as well as the World Cup in 2003, walking away from her international career with five major honours. 

42. Sissi

Sissi was a fabulous player but only ever had one standout tournament, but what a tournament it was. 

Better known for her creative abilities than goalscoring, Brazilian Sissi tied Sun Wen as the Golden Boot winner at the 1999 World Cup with seven goals, as well as scoring the tournament’s first golden goal. A truly gifted player.

41. Wendie Renard

Wendie Renard

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Renard’s inclusion, despite still being a current player, lies with the incredible era of success she has had with Lyon. 

Renard has an incredible 14 league titles with the French giants, seven Champions League titles – including five in a row – and has been named in the FIFPro World XI six times. A huge presence at both ends of the pitch.

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40. Melanie Behringer

At her best, Melanie Behringer was one of the most joyous players of the modern era to watch live. 

How she could both control and read games contributed to a decade that saw her win two European Championships, a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal. 

But that’s not all. She also won the Golden Boot and was a FIFA World Player of the Year nominee for her performances.

39. Kim Little

At her peak, Little was one of the very best in the world. She was part of an all-conquering Arsenal side before heading to the USA where she quickly became a household name in Seattle. 

Whether it’s setting up others or scoring a hatful herself, Little has excelled throughout her career on both sides of the Atlantic and has 40 goals for Scotland.

38. Dzsenifer Marozsán

Dzsenifer Marozsán

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Marozsán has a more glorified trophy cabinet than many on this list that have already retired. 

There are few better on the ball than the German and her individual honours, including being named UEFA Player of the Year three times in a row between 2015 and 2017 proves that. She has won four league titles, five Champions Leagues, an Olympic gold and a European Championship in 2013.

37. Hanna Ljungberg

Hanna Ljungberg was, is, and always will be one of Sweden’s greatest. 

When she retired, she was Sweden’s top scorer with 72 goals and after dragging her country to a surprise World Cup final in 2003, was a finalist for the FIFA World Player of the Year award. For Umeå IK, she scored a scarcely believable 196 goals in 277 appearances.

36. Briana Scurry

Briana Scurry was eventually replaced by Hope Solo in the USA team but with 173 caps – the second most of any goalkeeper – Scurry had a hugely successful stint between the posts. 

Keeping 71 clean sheets, she won Olympic gold medals in both 1996 and 2004 and saved a crucial penalty to help the USWNT win the 1999 World Cup.

35. Renate Lingor

Another hugely decorated player and another key component of a Germany side that dominated world football for a period. 

Lingor won three European Cups and seven Bundesliga titles domestically during the 2000s, when FFC Frankfurt were at the top of German football and Lingor was a huge part of that. 

Her success on the international stage wasn’t bad either, as the midfielder walked away from her Germany career with two World Cups and three European Championships, as well as three Olympic bronze medals. 

Her performances at the 2007 World Cup earned Lingor a spot on the all-star team. There are few in German football with a bigger list of honours than this midfielder.

34. Bente Nordby

Bente Nordby

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With 172 caps, Nordby comes up just behind Scurry in appearances, but her contribution of only conceding one goal as Norway won the 1995 World Cup, preceded by a European Championship and followed by an Olympic gold stands her out as one of the best. 

She was a FIFA World Player of the Year nominee four times too. One of only a few players who can say they have won the European Championships, World Cup and an Olympic gold, Nordby was for a long time considered one of the best goalkeepers of her time and her legacy certainly puts her down as one of the greatest of all time when looking back at what she achieved.

33. Inka Grings

Inka Grings will go down as one of the best German goalscorers. With 195 goals, she is the top scorer in the history of the Bundesliga, won the league’s Golden Boot six seasons in a row, and was named Germany’s Player of the Year three times. 

It’s hardly surprising her domestic form contributed to an era of German dominance on the international scene, where she won back-to-back European Championships in 2005 and 2009, as well as a European Cup in the same year as the latter. Grings also won the Golden Boot in both tournaments.

32. Carla Overbeck

Carla Overbeck won 168 caps for a USA team that at times during the 1990s dominated the landscape of women’s football. After winning the World Cup in China in 1991, in which Overbeck was a mainstay in the US defence, she went on to play every single minute of the 1995 World Cup, 1996 Olympics and the 1999 World Cup, one of only two players to do so. 

The defender picked up an Olympic gold medal and another World Cup in the latter two tournaments and throughout her time with her nation, she was a steady hand at the back during a hugely successful decade for the world’s most decorated women’s national team.

31. Sandra Minnert

Sandra Minnert’s contribution to German football may best be described by the fact she was awarded the ‘Silbernes Lorbeerblatt’ – the highest sports award in Germany – six times between 1995 and 2007. 

Minnert won four European Championships, two World Cups, five Bundesliga titles and a WUSA in America with Washington in 2003. 

An all-star team member at the 2003 World Cup, which Germany won, Minnert was a constant and important presence at the heart of a successful and dominant Germany side in the early to mid-2000s. She also got her hands on a European Cup and two Olympic bronze medals during a hugely trophy-laden career.

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30. Shannon Boxx

Shannon Boxx

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USA midfielder Shannon Boxx would likely rank higher up this list had her career not taken off later than most. Incredibly, Boxx didn’t make her senior USA debut until she was 26, just before the 2003 World Cup.

She went on to become the first player to score in her first three national team matches. Such was her rise, she finished seventh in the 2004 FIFA World Player of the Year award and was a finalist a year later after helping the USA win Olympic gold. 

It took until 2015 to get her hands on a World Cup after years dealing with injury and illness, and Boxx got to walk away as one of the team’s greatest midfielders despite her late debut.

29. Kerstin Garefrekes

Germany midfielder Kerstin Garefrekes defined an era that saw her dominate on both the club and international stage. 

Whether it was with the all-conquering FFC Frankfurt side or the Germany national team, Garefrekes walked away from her career with an incredible list of honours. 

She had already won the Bundesliga Golden Boot before Frankfurt snapped her up, where she went on to win three Bundesliga titles and three Champions League titles spanning across more than a decade. 

With Germany, she won back-to-back World Cups and back-to-back European Championships during an incredible six-year spell for the national team. Perhaps not a huge household name, but one of the most decorated German players nevertheless.

28. Aya Miyama

Aya Miyama perhaps never got the credit she deserved when she was a player, but is certainly appreciated now she has retired. 

Perhaps it’s a summary of her personality that when Japan won the World Cup in 2011, she did not immediately join her teammates in celebration, but went to shake the hands of the opposing USA players. 

Miyama could hardly have been more influential in her nation’s greatest success. She was named AFC Footballer of the Year three times and played in an Olympic final and another World Cup final, ending a superb career where she showed off her technical skills and deadly set-pieces 162 times for her country, scoring 38 goals.

27. Pia Sundhage

Sweden’s Pia Sundhage may now be better known for her illustrious coaching career, but being voted the sixth best player of the 20th century shows her playing career wasn’t too shabby either. 

When Sundhage retired in 1996, she did so as Sweden’s top scorer at the time with 71 goals in her 146 caps. A classic centre forward, Sundhage was the top scorer as the Swedes won the first-ever official European Championships in 1984 and went on to represent her nation in several more major tournaments. 

Sundhage won four Damallsvenskan titles and briefly moved to Italy in the 1980s, which at the time was a sure sign that you were a highly coveted footballer.

26. Anja Mittag

Anja Mittag

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There’s no doubt that Germany’s Anja Mittag is one of the most decorated strikers of the 21st century, and was arguably the best striker anywhere in Europe in the early 2000s. 

Retiring as the top scorer in the European Cup with an incredible 51 goals, Mittag won Europe’s most prized club trophy twice, as well as other honours that you could reel off forever. 

Five Bundesliga titles, a World Cup, three European Championships and an Olympic bronze medal, plus several youth trophies and individual successes, which includes being named Player of the Year in Sweden twice during her FC Rosengård days. One of the very best goalscorers of her generation.

25. Heidi Støre

Norway’s Heidi Støre did what any player dreams of, captained her country to a World Cup triumph in 1995. 

Norway were not one of the biggest countries compared to some of their rivals, but Støre’s influence on and off the pitch was pivotal in the team’s historic success. 

Beyond that the midfielder, who ended her career with over 150 caps, played in another final in 1991, as well as winning two European Championships in 1987 and 1993. 

Støre also won an Olympic medal in Atlanta in 1996 before retiring a year later. A mercurial player with a ton of talent, Støre is one of her nation’s greatest players.

24. Lotta Schelin

Lotta Schelin’s contribution to Swedish football cannot be underestimated. Far from a conventional striker, the tall, imposing, yet ultimately unselfish forward still ended her career as her nation’s top goalscorer with 88 goals. 

Her list of achievements is as big as any player in the world, and while she was never able to pick up a major honour with her country, she did pick up a vast amount of individual honours and was the top scorer at Euro 2013. 

Schelin won eight consecutive league titles with Lyon, as well as two Champions League titles and a whole host of other domestic honours during a highly decorated career.

23. Tiffeny Milbrett

Considering Tiffeny Milbrett’s full-time career with the USA lasted only ten years, her record of 100 goals in 206 games is an incredibly impressive one, averaging almost a goal every other game. 

Milbrett was the ultimate striker and showed herself at big moments in her career, the first of which came when she scored the winner in the 1996 Olympic final against China to get her first of two gold medals.

At the 1999 World Cup, which the USA also won, Milbrett was the team’s top scorer across the tournament and a year later was one of three nominees for the first ever FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award. Overall, she managed to score 12 goals at five major tournaments.

22. Doris Fitschen

Doris Fitschen

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Doris Fitschen is one of the most successful and decorated German players in the sport’s history, yet perhaps not a household name to many. If her four Bundesliga titles don’t do the job, her five European Championship medals should. 

Her success and talent spanned across a whole decade, evident by the fact she was named best player at the 1989 European Championships, and ten years later named onto the all-star team at the 1999 World Cup. 

A composed defender who propped up a successful Germany side, Fitschen’s contribution was so big she received a special achievement award from UEFA when she retired.

21. Brandi Chastain

When you hear the name Brandi Chastain, it’s hard not to think of that World Cup-winning moment in front of her adoring home crowd in 1999. While not a bad moment to define your career, 

Chastain’s senior career spanned two whole decades and was about so much more than one penalty. Over 192 caps, Chastain managed 30 goals, not bad for someone who was predominantly a defender or midfielder. 

Three years previous to her second World Cup triumph, Chastain won an Olympic gold medal, playing in the final despite suffering an injury in the team’s semi-final win. Her will to win and her qualities constantly shone through on the pitch and has cemented her legacy as one of America’s greatest players. 

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20. Nadine Angerer

Germany legend Nadine Angerer may be the only goalkeeper to have come close to matching Hope Solo’s success and reputation in the modern-day era of the sport. 

For so long an understudy to Silke Rottenberg for the national team, Angerer took over as the number one at the 2007 World Cup and didn’t concede a single goal as Germany won the tournament. 

A penalty-saving expert, Angerer saved two penalties in the Euro 2013 final and ended her career with five European Championship titles and two World Cups, as well as several major domestic honours, including a European Cup with Turbine Potsdam. 

The only goalkeeper to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, Angerer asserted herself as one of the world’s best goalkeepers when it came to all disciplines of the position.

19. Julie Foudy

Aside from her impressive tally of 274 international caps and 45 goals for the USA, Julie Foudy helped lead her nation through one of their most successful spells in the team’s history. 

As co-captain in the 1990s, Foudy won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal, and added another as sole team captain in 2004 before retiring. Foudy was part of a golden era of USA players and is still involved in the sport to this day, but her legacy as one of their top midfielders during such a successful stint lives long in the memory.

Foudy’s role as either co-captain and captain for one nation’s success, and the trophies that came with it, will be hard for anybody to match in the future.

18. Hope Solo

Hope Solo

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Hope Solo will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest goalkeepers the women’s game has seen. 

As the number one of the number one national team in the world, Solo enjoyed plenty of success in her 202 caps across 16 years with the USA. Between winning back-to-back gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Solo was named the best goalkeeper at the 2011 World Cup.

An imposing figure, Solo made a name for herself throughout her career as one of the best and eventually got the biggest trophy of all, the World Cup, in 2015, just a year before retiring. Solo won 153 of her 202 games with the national team and holds the record for most clean sheets, with 102.

17. Formiga

Formiga, like too many of her Brazilian counterparts, doesn’t have the international honours to show for her contributions, but her career has formed its own legacy over time. 

Having finally retired from international football at the end of 2021 at the age of 43, Formiga’s longevity has certified her as a one-of-a-kind footballer. It’s very unlikely that we will ever see another player performing at the level the midfielder played at when she was well into her 40s. 

It says everything that Formiga’s first major honour came 25 years ago, such is the span of her career successes. Few read and control games like Formiga and the midfielder has won major honours in both South America and in Europe with PSG, as well as being named in the CONMEBOL Team of the Decade for the period between 2011 and 2020. A true legend and the likes of which we will probably never see again.

16. Hege Riise

Hege Riise may be better known to modern-day fans of the sport as a coach – indeed the coach who led Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 – but she is also one of the finest players of a generation. 

Riise is one of a very select amount of players who can claim to have won a European Championships, a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal, which she did across a seven-year span of unprecedented success with Norway between 1993 and 2000. 

When Norway shocked the bigger nations to win the World Cup in 1995, Riise was named Player of the Tournament, as she had been two years previously at the 1993 European Championships. 

If being named the best player at two consecutive major tournaments doesn’t cement your legacy as a top player and a true legend, very little else will. After 188 caps and 58 goals, Riise retired and will forever go down as one of Norway’s greatest players.

15. Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd retired at the end of 2021 after an illustrious career that secured her place as one of the USA’s all-time greats. 

With 134 goals in 316 games, Lloyd is one of the top scorers in international football history, but it was only in her later years where she produced her biggest moments, with one standing out in particular. 

Her quickfire hat-trick, sealed with an audacious lob from near the halfway line at the World Cup final, lives long in the memory and will forever be one of the finest individual performances on a stage as big as Lloyd performed that day. 

But to pigeonhole a career that also includes another World Cup, two Olympic gold medals and a whole host of other honours, such as an FA Cup with Manchester City, into one moment would be wrong. 

Lloyd’s individual honours list is also an embarrassment of riches, topped off by being named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2015.

14. Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith

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Kelly Smith is undoubtedly England’s greatest ever player, as well as one of the most decorated. Smith’s peak came before the FA Women’s Super League boom but her talent was evident to anyone who watched her. 

Smith was part of the historic Arsenal quadruple winners and helped the Gunners to an array of domestic successes, but her moments for England on the biggest stages are the true joys, especially against Japan in the 2011 World Cup in Germany. 

Smith’s footwork, skill and devastating ability to score every type of goal made her stand out from many of her compatriots at the time. 

Her final ever professional goal, a deft lob against Doncaster Rovers Belles from well outside the box, was a fitting tribute to a player who could do the extraordinary with seemingly no real effort.

13. Carin Jennings

Carin Jennings was probably the most feared wide player of her time. The way Jennings could beat any player with ease made her a key component of an all-star USA attack in the early 1990s. 

Her 23-minute hat-trick against Germany in the 1991 World Cup semi-final was dubbed one of the greatest individual performances by any American ever, and it’s hard to argue. 

Jennings would go on to lift the trophy in 1991 and ended her playing career with over 100 caps and over 50 goals for her country, despite not being an out-and-out forward. 

Her 1991 performances ensured she was the first player to win the tournament’s Golden Ball award, and nine years later was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. In 1996, she retired just after winning an Olympic gold medal.

12. Christie Pearce

Long-term captain of the world’s most successful national team, 311 caps, two-time world champion and three-time Olympic gold medallist. Need we go on? 

Pearce enjoyed an almost unprecedented level of success over an almost unprecedented amount of time – her USA career lasted 18 years. 

Intertwined with injuries and maternity leave, Pearce took home five major medals from her time with the USA team. 

At the 2012 Olympics, Pearce played every single minute as she won her third Olympic gold medal and at the 2015 World Cup, she became the oldest player to play in a final when she was brought on in the last four minutes to win her second World Cup. A true legend.

11. Homare Sawa

It may be that 2011 was one of the greatest years the women’s game has ever seen. Sawa, just months after Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, led her team to an almost unthinkable World Cup triumph. 

She also scored the extra-time goal that took the final to penalties, ending the tournament with both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball, and later that year the title of FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. 

Sawa at her best was truly special and she enjoyed an incredible amount of domestic success across two decades. Sawa remains the most capped Japanese player in history, with 205 appearances as well as her nation’s top scorer with 83 goals. 

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10. Joy Fawcett

Fawcett

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Joy Fawcett is one of the greatest defenders to have played the game. Fawcett earned 241 caps across an incredible USA career and with 27 goals, retired as the top defensive scorer in the team’s history.

But goals are not what Fawcett’s career is judged on – it’s the role she played at the heart of several successful teams. Her impressive college career set her up for what was a stellar international career across 17 years. 

After winning the 1991 World Cup, Fawcett played every single minute of the 1995, 1999 and 2003 World Cups, as well as the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. She won a further World Cup in 1999 and an Olympic gold medal three years previous. One of the best there was.

9. Christine Sinclair

Sinclair

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Christine Sinclair’s individual success and legacy is hard to marry up with a lack of team achievements compared to some of her rivals, but it’s hard to have the top scorer in the history of international football any lower than this in our ranking. 

Sinclair has so often been the talisman for Canada, an icon and legend for her country and the face of the sport in the north, helping to drive the national team to a place where it could go out and get its first Olympic gold medal in Tokyo 2021, and finally get Sinclair a well-deserved major honour with her country. 

Her 188 goals is an astounding achievement that may never be beaten, and the striker has enjoyed plenty of success domestically too, particularly in the NWSL with Portland Thorns. There may never have been a bigger legend for her country than Sinclair and she’s showing no sign of stopping.

8. Abby Wambach

Wambach

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Abby Wambach will forever go down as one of the greatest goalscorers, but it was her effective style of play that set her up for such a great career. 

Her 184 goals over 14 years for the USA looked like a record that would never be broken (until Christine Sinclair did). 

Wambach was never the most technically gifted, but her physical presence and aerial ability made her one of the most dangerous forwards in the world. Wambach was at the peak of her powers at the start of the 2010s, named FIFA Player of the Year in 2012 and was a finalist a year either side during a period of leading the world game when it came to being the ultimate centre forward. 

Wambach got her coveted World Cup medal in 2015 and her legend has been felt off the pitch too, when she was named in TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in the same year. An incredible striker.

7. Heidi Mohr

Mahn

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Germany’s Heidi Mohr perhaps never managed to achieve the profile of some of her esteemed colleagues and rivals in this list, but it doesn’t mean she was any less effective when it came to what she offered on the pitch. 

In 1999, she was voted Europe’s Player of the Century, and if that doesn’t tell you what Mohr was like as a forward, nothing will. Between 1991 and 1995, Mohr won the Bundesliga Golden Boot in all five seasons, regularly well clear of her nearest competition. 

With her country, Mohr won three European Championships and was the top scorer in the 1991 edition, in addition to taking home a Silver Boot as the second top scorer in the 1991 World Cup behind Michelle Akers. 

Sadly, Mohr passed away in 2019, but her legend as one of the greatest the game has seen will live on forever, and her goal-scoring record in Germany for club and country is something that will rarely be beaten.

6. Kristine Lilly

Lily

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Kristine Lilly’s 354 international caps is an incredible feat and a record that may never be broken, with Christine Sinclair the only player even remotely close (but still over 40 caps away). 

One of the most dominant midfielders of a generation, Lilly’s forward ability also made her a proven goalscorer, finding the net 130 times for the USA across a 23-year career. 

The length of her career meant Lilly won everything there was to win and did so multiple times. She enjoyed many individual highlights along the way, all of which contributed to her team’s success. 

When you think of the USA women’s team and the star players over the years, Lilly will be one of the first names to spring to mind due to the longevity of her performances and how she remained a top player until the end, an incredible two and a bit decades after making her debut.

5. Sun Wen

Sun Wen

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It will take someone truly special to dethrone Sun Wen as Asia’s greatest female footballer. The fact she shared FIFA’s Player of the Century award with Michelle Akers says everything about how she was viewed around the world shortly after a period where she was at the peak of her powers – the 1999 World Cup. 

Sun Wen won both the Golden Ball for best player and Golden Boot for top scorer in the tournament and came so close to winning what would have been her one and only World Cup, losing in a famous penalty shootout despite scoring China’s final penalty. 

One year on, Sun Wen announced herself to the USA even further, by joining Atlanta Beat for two successful years. While the forward never got her hands on the ultimate prize, she helped her nation to an Olympic silver and four consecutive Asian Cup triumphs, ending her career with 106 goals in 163 caps for China. 

As well as an ultimate goalscorer, Sun Wen could assist – she had a superb passing ability and an array of skills, making her one of the most complete all-round forwards the game has seen.

4. Michelle Akers

Akers

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Michelle Akers holds a record that still hasn’t been broken to this day, decades later. Her ten goals at the 1991 World Cup is an individual record that has stood the test of time, and at the time helped her country win the first women’s World Cup. 

That, though, doesn’t do justice to what Akers achieved over her career and the talent she held. Akers was named FIFA Female Player of the Century in 2002, that in itself quite an honour, shared with China’s Sun Wen. 

Akers was a member of the USA squad from day one and ended her international career with a stellar 105 goals in 156 caps, a ridiculous 39 of them coming in the space of one year in 1991, coinciding with her double-figure tally in China. 

Akers was so talented she eventually moved into a midfield role and regressed further and further back down the pitch as her career wore on. Unfortunately, a series of knee issues took their toll, but Akers still performed and succeeded at the top level, playing in a position that wasn’t naturally hers. 

Akers managed to stay around long enough to win a second World Cup, before retiring in 2000 as her nation’s second top scorer in history.

3. Birgit Prinz

Prinz

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Germany legend Birgit Prinz is one of the most devastatingly clinical strikers the game has ever seen, and ranks as the highest European player in our list. 

If her 128 goals in 214 caps for her national team don’t tell the story, her record at club level in terms of both goals and medals won is arguably even more impressive. 

Prinz won an incredible five European Championships and two World Cups, playing an influential role throughout an era of German dominance, particularly in their own continent. FIFA World Player of the Year three years running, Prinz was runner-up another five times and was named German Player of the Year eight years in a row. Yes, eight.

Only Marta has more World Cup goals and that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Prinz’s achievements. Prinz won nine Bundesliga titles, seven of them with the all-conquering FFC Frankfurt side, as well as three European Cups, scoring the decisive goal in two of her side’s triumphs. 

Prinz even decided to tackle America in 2002 and flourished there too, helping Carolina Courage to the 2002 WUSA Championship, only adding to her ridiculous honours board. Europe may never find another striker who can match the legacy Prinz has left behind.

2. Mia Hamm

Hamm

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There were a few candidates who could have commanded ‘best of the rest’, but Mia Hamm’s longevity, success and individual talent stand out, which is why her name is still so iconic and revered, even years after her retirement. 

Hamm ended her career with an incredible 158 goals in 276 games for the USA, a tally that once was the best in the world, and even nearly two decades on still sees her sat in the top three of all time. 

With all the talent that has passed through the USA team over the years, to stand out as number one shows how special Hamm was. FIFA World Player of the Year two years running in 2001 and 2002 saw her labelled the best in the world over a period of time. 

Finally getting her coveted World Cup medal in 1999 at the third time of asking, Hamm epitomises everything the US is and has been across the decades. There’s no doubt Hamm will forever go down as not only one of the greatest forwards, but one of the greatest players, full stop.

1. Marta

Marta

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Marta may not have enjoyed the same international team success as some of her rivals in this list, but her individual qualities have always stood out from the pack. 

If you haven’t been lucky enough to witness the Brazilian icon with your own eyes, her stats alone will tell a daunting tale. Brazil’s top scorer with 115 goals, the top scorer in World Cup history with 17 goals and the first to score at five consecutive World Cups, Marta has been named the FIFA World Player of the Year an impressive six times, with five of them coming in consecutive years. 

She may never have picked up a World Cup itself or an Olympic gold, but her individual honours stretch and stretch beyond imagination, while at club level the forward won four consecutive titles with former European giants Umeå IK, as well as a European Cup. 

Her performance when Brazil demolished the USA 4-0 in the 2007 World Cup semi-final will forever be remembered, and she is viewed back home as a legend, an honour that has over time spread around the world. 

To stand out from the pack is no easy feat and it’s hard to believe there will ever be another quite as special as Marta.

This article first appeared in the Ultimate Guide to Women’s Football, available with free delivery now (opens in new tab), or in WH Smiths in the UK and Barnes & Noble in the US

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