11 players who could decide the Women's World Cup
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.