Now that the tournament has entered the Round of 16 stage, here are 7 players to watch in the Women’s World Cup:
1. Teresa Abelleira (Spain)
Never mind the fact that Spain is struggling more than ever with its embarrassing 4-0 loss to Japan. Real Madrid’s Teresa Abelleira is tearing up New Zealand with her Rodri-esque playstyle and laser-guided shots. Although her incredible outside-the-box opener against Zambia is what might come to mind when discussing Abelleira, we don’t talk about her passing and intelligence off the ball.
She has the second-most completed passes (293) throughout the entire tournament, the most passes that enter the final third (43), and she has an insane accuracy (86.7%) considering the volume of passes she makes.
Abelleira brings the perfect kind of La Masia-inspired, tempo-oriented build for Spain. They’ll crave some sort of normalcy considering their rocky form, and Abelleira can bring it.
2. Hinata Miyazawa (Japan)
Promising attacker Hinata Miyazawa is Japan’s breakout star. Her eye-opening performance against European heavyweights Spain is a perfect example of that. She netted a brace in Japan’s 5-0 rout of Zambia. Despite sitting most of the game against Costa Ric, she got another brace and added an assist against Spain.
She has great control over the ball, meaning her skill moves are unpredictable and often catches defenders by surprise. Her flair, skills, and acceleration draw comparisons to another Japanese attacker with dizzying movement, Kaoru Mitoma.
Miyazawa is in the conversation of the most skilled players currently in Australia right now. Japan’s upcoming match against Norway should only prove it.
3. Thembi Kgatlana (South Africa)
South Africa’s captain and goalscoring machine Thembi Kgatlana has been near unstoppable for the Banyana Banyana this World Cup. She boasts two goals and two assists in just three games, including her match-winner against Italy to lead South Africa into the knockout rounds for the first time.
She’s a solid finisher, a prolific dribbler, and a complete forward who can create for herself and her teammates. It helps that she also has an inspiring story. She battled her way back from a devastating ACL injury that kept her sidelined for 10 months in May. She has also been at the forefront of payment disputes with the South African Football Federation and lost three family members while training in Australia.
The Racing Louisville attacker has a lot to play for, and it shows in her entertaining, energetic style of play. She’ll be the one to watch in South Africa’s intense match against the Netherlands.
4. Sophia Smith (USA)
Sophia Smith has been the United States’ best attacker if not their best player, while in Australia. The Portland Thorns winger nabbed an assist and two goals in USA’s dominant win over Vietnam. Although she hasn’t gotten on the scoresheet since and her performances (along with the entire squad) have been lackluster at best, she’s still an interesting player to watch going into the team’s blockbuster matchup against Sweden.
Smith is a highly intelligent and versatile player who frequently finds pockets of space many wouldn’t see at all. She thrives in packed defenses with her close ball control and she’s a very accurate shooter. If Smith can get back to form in time for the US’ round of 16 game, she can wreak havoc on a Swedish defense prided on its compact, hard-to-break-through back line.
5. Lauren James (England)
After her phenomenal two-goal, three-assist performance against China, Lauren James is making a name for herself as the most technically skilled player at the World Cup.
James is one of the most two-footed players currently in Australia. She also has a killer finishing ability, great vision, and the playmaking skills needed to be considered one of the game’s greats. Her breakout performance against Australia only proves that, but she’s been great throughout last season.
Nigeria should be aware of her talent as they prepare for an exciting matchup between James’ Lionesses and Asisat Oshoala’s Super Falcons.
6. Kyra Cooney-Cross (Australia)
Although Australia’s mega-star Sam Kerr will likely be in the lineup for Australia’s round of 16 match against Denmark on Monday, it’s Hammarby midfield talent Kyra Cooney-Cross viewers should watch. Australia’s midfield maestro is a great creator who has been able to help her teammates feast on endless chances due to her solid long balls, crosses, and physicality.
Cooney-Cross can pass or hold onto the ball under pressure. She’s also a great set-piece taker who always threatens the net with her free kicks and corners. Chelsea and Arsenal are reportedly huge fans of Cooney-Cross’ playstyle, and with the transfer window winding down quickly, they could act soon.
7. Linda Caicedo (Colombia)
Caicedo has been the talk of the tournament as she and the Colombian national team upset South Korea and Germany to enter the knockout stage. Just 18 years old, Caicedo scored two goals in three matches to send the world into a frenzy.
The Real Madrid attacker, who has been heralded as the future of women’s soccer, can only be described as electric. She has an amazing first touch, and at times, it looks like the ball is glued to her feet. She’s also an amazing shooter as well, as her impressive curling effort against Germany shows.
Caicedo’s World Cup dominance is magnified by the fact she’s only three years removed from her life-threatening ovarian cancer. Her cancer kept her away from soccer for six months. She’s also an icon in Colombia’s LGBTQ+ community after she dedicated her goal against Germany to her partner.
PHOTO: IMAGO & PA Images
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