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Best players at 2023 Women’s World Cup: Morgan, Marta, more

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The Women’s World Cup is almost here! The tournament is a time to showcase the best players in the world and the up-and-comers. The 2023 edition, which starts July 20 in Australia and New Zealand, will be no different.

But what is different is the growth in women’s football we’ve seen over the past four years and beyond — instead of all the best players in the world hailing from a few top teams, the sport is more competitive than it’s ever been, and that’s apparent in the 2023 edition of ESPN FC’s World Cup Rank. A panel of ESPN experts — including our writers who will be at the tournament delivering daily coverage (Caitlin Murray, Jeff Carlisle, Sophie Lawson, Tom Hamilton, Sam Marsden, Julien Laurens, Marissa Lordanic and Mark Ogden) — selected the top 25 players at the tournament.

– Meet the USWNT: What you need to know about all 23 players
– Group by group predictions, picks
– Women’s World Cup: Schedule | Rosters | News

These players come from all over the world, and they represent not just the best players at the World Cup, but the players who make for appointment viewing. Although someone like U.S. winger Megan Rapinoe is a player the panel considered based on her talent and ability to impact games, she is expected to play a substitute role during this World Cup and thus was left outside of the top 25 for that reason. This list comprises players we felt could make massive contributions if their teams go far this summer. (Editor’s note: All ages are as of the start of the tournament on July 20.)

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Who ranks 25-21 on ESPN FC’s 25 best players at Women’s World Cup?

Kay Murray and Sophie Lawson take a look at ESPN FC’s Best 25 players at the Women’s World Cup from 25 to 21.


25. Kosovare AsllaniSweden flag

Country: Sweden
Age: 33
Club: AC Milan
Position: Midfielder/striker

Sweden’s enigmatic veteran, Kosovare Asllani, is set for her third World Cup. After coming so close to glory at the 2021 Olympics, winning silver after losing to Canada, the attacking midfielder hasn’t been shy about expressing her desire to finally win a tournament with Sweden.

Having grown into a leader on the pitch between the 2015 and 2019 editions of the FIFA tournament, Asllani has flourished in her more mature role under manager Peter Gerhardsson. With the focus more heavily on attackers such as Fridolina Rolfö, Stina Blackstenius and Madelen Janogy, Asllani remains key in advancing the ball into dangerous positions for Sweden and taking on players one-on-one to set up her teammates. –Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 23 vs. South Africa (1 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. Italy (3:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 2 vs. Argentina (3 a.m. ET)


24. Racheal KundananjiZambia flag

Country: Zambia
Age: 23
Club: Madrid CFF
Position: Striker

While captain and attacking talent Barbra Banda stole the headlines when Zambia made their major tournament bow at the 2021 Olympics, it is Banda’s compatriot Racheal Kundananji who comes into the World Cup after a sensational season with Madrid CFF, scoring 25 times in 29 appearances. Having scored in both of Zambia’s warmup games against Ireland and Switzerland, Kundananji is likely to take up the mantle with Banda and consistently offer a hopeful attacking outlet.

Although Zambia are long shots to progress from their group, which features both Spain and Japan, the Copper Queens are likely to find the back of the net multiple times throughout the group stage. It’s Kundananji who’ll probably be the one celebrating. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 22 vs. Japan (3 a.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Spain (3:30 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Costa Rica (3 a.m. ET)


23. Linda CaicedoColombia flag

Country: Colombia
Age: 18
Club: Real Madrid
Position: Striker

Heading into her fourth World Cup in 16 months after outings at the U17 Women’s World Cup in March 2022 and the U20 tournament five months later, attacking sensation Linda Caicedo has been tipped for big things.

She moved to Real Madrid earlier this year, and the goal scorer has been key in revitalising the Colombia senior team since her senior debut in 2019. With a delicate first touch and eye for a goal, the teenager plays with a freedom that her age allows and has rarely looked overawed against top-tier opposition. Drawn into an intriguing group with Morocco and South Korea as well as favorites Germany, there is plenty of room for Caicedo to dazzle and Colombia to progress. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 24 vs. South Korea (10 p.m. ET)
• July 30 vs. Germany (5:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 3 vs. Morocco (6 a.m. ET)


22. Wendie RenardFrance flag

Country: France
Age: 32
Club: Olympique Lyonnais
Position: Center back

The French captain will turn 33 the day the World Cup begins, and perhaps that will a good omen as she plays in her third and likely final World Cup. The Lyon center back has had a fantastic career at club level (eight Champions League trophies, 16 French titles and nine French Cups) but with Les Bleues, it has been heartbreak after heartbreak. France, for all their talent and promise, have never made it past the quarterfinals of a World Cup and have never medaled in the smaller Olympics tournament either.

Once again this summer, Wendie Renard will be France’s leader in a team where her experience and height — she’s 6-foot-2 — are precious. With her reading of the game and her expert anticipation, she’s one of the best players in the world and one of the most feared center backs. She will relish the challenge of facing the best No. 9s in the world with the hope it’ll carry France all the way. — Laurens

Group stage games:

• July 23 vs. Jamaica (6 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. Brazil (6 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 2 vs. Panama (6 a.m. ET)


21. Ellie CarpenterAustralia flag

Country: Australia
Age: 23
Club: Olympique Lyonnais
Position: Right fullback

Ellie Carpenter is one of a handful of players entering this World Cup after successfully returning from an ACL tear. Her comeback is Australia’s gain with the right back proclaiming she feels fitter and stronger than before her knee injury. Coach Tony Gustavsson has backed her up, arguing that she was already fitter and stronger than pre-injury.

With a workhorse engine and a propensity to push higher up the pitch, Carpenter’s influence on this Matildas team in attack and defense will be pivotal. — Lordanic

Group stage games:

• July 20 vs. Ireland (6 a.m. ET)
• July 27 vs. Nigeria (6 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Canada (6 a.m. ET)


20. Lauren JamesEngland flag

Country: England
Age: 21
Club: Chelsea
Position: Right wing

Last summer, Lauren James watched on as the Lionesses made history in their European Championships triumph. A year on and she’s an integral part of their plans to extend the domination to world football. The 2022-23 campaign was James’ breakout season — the versatile forward lit up the WSL at Chelsea with her mesmerizing dribbling and lethal finishing.

She made her England debut in September but will vie for a star role when they open their World Cup campaign against Haiti. Leah Williamson, England’s injured captain, describes her as a “cheat code” and “incredible” and off the back of a season with Chelsea where James played a key role in their domestic double, she’ll be hoping for more silverware this summer. — Hamilton

Group stage games:

• July 22 vs. Haiti (5:30 a.m. ET)
• July 28 vs. Denmark (4:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. China (7 a.m. ET)


19. Khadija ‘Bunny’ ShawJamaica flag

Country: Jamaica
Age: 26
Club: Manchester City
Position: Striker

It’s easy to forget that Bunny Shaw played every minute of Jamaica’s maiden World Cup campaign in France in 2019 because her tournament was so unremarkable. She picked up an injury just before it started, which seemed to severely stifle her performance. However, this time around, the Reggae Girlz’s enigmatic striker won’t have the same concern.

She’s developed her game across professional stints with Bordeaux and Manchester City, and the goal-getter has rounded out her game, taking responsibility not just for scoring but also luring defenders away to create space for her teammates to attack. With Jamaica not favored in their group, the Reggae Girlz will be relying on Shaw to occupy defenders as much as getting on the ball in the box. She’s a player to watch as much for her goals as her work off the ball, and if Jamaica are to get out of their group, they’ll need Shaw. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 23 vs. France (6 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. Panama (8:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 2 vs. Brazil (6 a.m. ET)


18. MartaBrazil flag

Country: Brazil
Age: 37
Club: Orlando Pride
Position: Forward

One of the greatest if not the greatest ever in the women’s game, Marta is back for her sixth World Cup. She has said this will be her last World Cup, and it’s the final chance to seal her legacy on the international stage having never won a major trophy with Brazil.

She’s already secured the record for the most goals in a World Cup, men’s or women’s, with 17, and she’ll be looking to extend that. Of course, Marta isn’t the same player who scored those 17 World Cup goals. At 37 years old, she doesn’t have quite the explosiveness she used to and she’s become increasingly injury prone — but her vision on the field and her skills on the ball remain world class. When Marta the magician has the ball at her foot, it feels like anything is possible. — Murray

Group stage games:

• July 24 vs. Panama (7 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. France (6 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. Jamaica (6 a.m. ET)


17. Ashley LawrenceCanada flag

Country: Canada
Age: 28
Club: Chelsea
Position: Right full-back/center back

Full-back, center back, occasional midfielder, Ashley Lawrence‘s willingness to be deployed wherever she is needed is part of what’s made her so reliable for Canada over the years — even though she’s much more likely to stay in a full-back role at the World Cup.

Since her breakout at the 2015 World Cup, she has found a level of consistency playing at the highest level that few can boast. Whether it was her six years at PSG or her 100-plus caps for Canada, Lawrence rarely fails to deliver on the pitch. For a Canada team expected to lean more into their defensive strength in Australia, Lawrence will be a building block for the team, as important in helping the Canadians keep clean sheets as in sparking their attacks. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 20 vs. Nigeria (10:30 p.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Ireland (8 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Australia (6 a.m. ET)


16. Danielle van de DonkNetherlands flag

Country: Netherlands
Age: 31
Club: Olympique Lyonnais
Position: Central midfielder

A tricky midfielder who delights in beating her opposition one-on-one, Danielle van de Donk shouldn’t be a new name to those who follow the women’s game. But her career has especially been given a shot in the arm since her return from a long-term ankle issue that culminated in a shin tendon rupture.

Although there is an overlap in the skills of Van de Donk and some of her Dutch teammates, like forward Lieke Martens and midfielder Victoria Pelova — all regulars in manager Andries Jonker’s team — it’s Van de Donk who comes into the tournament in better form that her compatriots and with more experience than the younger up-and-comers like Pelova and midfielder Jill Baijings. Expected to be key for the Dutch this summer, Van De Donk is likely to make new fans with her silky footwork. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 23 vs. Portugal (3:30 a.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. USA (9 p.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. Vietnam (3 a.m. ET)


15. Kadidiatou DianiFrance flag

Country: France
Age: 28
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Position: Right wing

Kadidiatou Diani is coming off an incredible season. She had her best campaign for PSG, scoring 30 league goals in an unusual center-forward position despite primarily featuring as wide player in the past. Although she was exceptional up front for Paris, she has announced she will leave after six seasons, with reports she’ll join Lyon and start a new chapter.

Now, she enters this World Cup having added a new dimension to her attacking abilities this year, and she can show Les Bleues how much her game as evolved amid the challenge of playing a new position. She is expected to return to her wide position under new head coach Hervé Renard, but in the absence of still-injured Marie-Antoinette Katoto, Diani will be France’s main goal-scoring threat up front. –Laurens

Group stage games:

• July 23 vs. Jamaica (6 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. Brazil (6 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 2 vs. Panama (6 a.m. ET)


14. Yui HasegawaJapan flag

Country: Japan
Age: 26
Club: Manchester City
Position: Central attacking midfielder

As the second-most-capped player in the Japan squad behind veteran captain Saki Kumagai, attacker Yui Hasegawa will face the onus to step up and be the key player in the heart of the Japanese midfield. A creative No. 10 with an eye for a defense-unlocking pass, Hasegawa will need to take more leadership responsibilities to help her team navigate the group stage and assist the squad’s younger members to navigate their first tournament.

Potentially one of the most exciting players in a team that could delight if they get everything right, Hasegawa should be on everyone’s radar. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 22 vs. Zambia (3 a.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Costa Rica (1 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Spain (3 a.m. ET)


13. Fridolina RolfoSweden flag

Country: Sweden
Age: 29
Club: Barcelona
Position: Left wing

The sight of Fridolina Rolfo charging down the left wing with power, pace and directness is common in Barcelona, where the Sweden international has been converted from a left winger into a left-back. In practice, given how much time Barca spend in the final third, her role has not actually changed that much, but it means she does have to be more attentive to defensive duties.

For Sweden, she will be one of the main ingredients in their attack this summer. — Marsden

Group stage games:

• July 23 vs. South Africa (1 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. Italy (3:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 2 vs. Argentina (3 a.m. ET)


12. Pernille HarderDenmark flag

Country: Denmark
Age: 30
Club: Bayern Munich
Position: Attacking midfield

She was on top of the European game when she made the switch to Chelsea ahead of the 2020-21 season, but Pernille Harder’s past three years have been far more muted. The Danish captain has struggled for fitness and rhythm, but a new chapter appears to be ahead: A return from a lengthy injury layoff at the start of May revealed a player getting back to her best, and she made a move to Bayern Munich last month.

A natural leader in attack for Denmark, Harder will have her work cut out for her to help her team advance to the knockouts at this World Cup, but as much the architect as the bricklayer, she should still manage to dazzle when she gets on the ball. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 22 vs. China (8 a.m. ET)
• July 28 vs. England (4:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. Haiti (7 a.m. ET)


11. DebinhaBrazil flag

Country: Brazil
Age: 31
Club: Kansas City Current
Position: Playmaking central midfielder

Debinha is a versatile attacker — she can be the creative playmaker finding through-balls between the lines to create chances for her teammates, or she can make runs in behind and finish clinically herself. Her versatility stems from her unpredictability — she tries stuff, without fear.

The Brazilian team has its share of creative players who bring a signature flair on the field, but it’s not giving credit where it’s due to simply say Debinha’s style is Brazilian. It is, of course, but it’s also brilliant, and if Brazil is going to finally have success on the world stage, she will be the engine. — Murray

Group stage games:

• July 24 vs. Panama (7 a.m. ET)
• July 29 vs. France (6 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. Jamaica (6 a.m. ET)


10. Alex MorganUSA flag

Country: USA
Age: 34
Club: San Diego Wave FC
Position: Striker

When Alex Morgan first broke in with the U.S. women’s national team, she earned the nickname “Baby Horse” for her energy and running style. As she prepares for her fourth Women’s World Cup, she’s not just alive and kicking — she remains one of the USWNT’s most important players.

Morgan retains plenty of mobility, as well as a nose for goal, as evidenced by the fact that she led the NWSL in scoring last season with 15 goals in 17 games. In fact, she’s been so effective that players such as Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Lynn Williams, who have played in central positions at club level, are shunted to the wing. If the U.S. is to claim its third straight World Cup title, you can bet Morgan will be at the center of the action. — Carlisle

Group stage games:

• July 21 vs. Vietnam (9 p.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Netherlands (9 p.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. Portugal (3 a.m. ET)


9. Alexandra PoppGermany flag

Country: Germany
Age: 32
Club: VfL Wolfsburg
Position: Striker

Seven-time Frauen Bundesliga winner, Champions League winner, Euro runner-up and Olympic gold medalist, Alexandra Popp‘s trophy cabinet runneth over. A key player for both club and country, captaining both, Popp is heading into the World Cup off of the back of another impressive season, having scooped the German domestic double as well as leading Wolfsburg to another Champions League final, only to lose to Barcelona.

A force in attack but comfortable further back in midfield, Popp’s experience will be as important as her goals for a young Germany team this summer. A player who’s more than happy to put her body on the line and throw herself into challenges, you can expect to see her score plenty of headers, or endure her share of collisions trying. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 24 vs. Morocco (4:30 a.m. ET)
• July 30 vs. Colombia (5:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 3 vs. South Korea (6 a.m. ET)


8. Keira WalshEngland flag

Country: England
Age: 26
Club: Barcelona
Position: Defensive midfielder

England have been ravaged by injuries to key players going into the World Cup, with captain Leah Williamson, playmaker Fran Kirby and forward Beth Mead all ruled out of the tournament with serious knee injuries. But while the absence of the two Euro 2022 winners is significant blow for coach Sarina Wiegman, the one player the Lionesses really couldn’t afford to lose was Keira Walsh, and luckily she’ll be at the tournament leading the way.

The Barcelona midfielder is the glue which holds the England side together — a defensive anchor — but she is also capable of moments of creativity, as with the pass from which Ella Toone scored the winning goal in the 2022 Euros final against Germany. Walsh is at the peak of her career, and her form and fitness will be crucial for England. — Ogden

Group stage games:

• July 22 vs. Haiti (5:30 a.m. ET)
• July 28 vs. Denmark (4:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. China (7 a.m. ET)


7. Lena OberdorfGermany flag

Country: Germany
Age: 21
Club: VfL Wolfsburg
Position: Defensive midfielder

Still just 21, combative and intelligent midfielder Lena Oberdorf has been a mainstay of the national team since locking down her place in 2019. Although playing a slightly more attacking role for club, Wolfsburg, the midfielder who earned plaudits for her displays during the 2022 Euros is much more of a disruptor for Germany, snuffing out opposition attacks before they happen.

Strong both on the ground and in the air, Oberdorf’s reading on the game is far beyond her years and her ability to see attacks unfolding ensures a near-watertight German midfield. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 24 vs. Morocco (4:30 a.m. ET)
• July 30 vs. Colombia (5:30 a.m. ET)
• Aug. 3 vs. South Korea (6 a.m. ET)


6. Ada HegerbergNorway flag

Country: Norway
Age: 27
Club: Olympique Lyonnais
Position: Striker

One of the brightest sparks in European women’s football, the past three years for Ada Hegerberg have been punctuated by injury, and before that was a five-year feud with her federation over conditions for the women’s national team, which left her refusing to represent her country. However, since her return to the Norway team ahead of the 2022 Euros, there has been a renewed sense of positivity with what the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner can add.

A determined and physically powerful attacker, Hegerberg doesn’t need anything more than a smart ball into the box to cause all sorts of trouble. In a Norway team that should be able to shine in attack, she could once again end up being the jewel in the crown for the Football Girls. — Lawson

Group stage games:

• July 20 vs. New Zealand (3 a.m. ET)
• July 25 vs. Switzerland (4 a.m. ET)
• July 30 vs. Philippines (3 a.m. ET)


5. Caroline Graham HansenNorway flag

Country: Norway
Age: 28
Club: Barcelona
Position: Striker/Right wing

One of the big mysteries at Barcelona is why Caroline Graham Hansen never appears on the shortlists for individual awards. Five Barca players made the Ballon d’Or top 20 this year, yet the Norwegian winger was not there. Ask any Barca player, though, and they will tell you she is among the top 10 players in the world at the very least.

Her speed, change of direction and decision-making have turned some of the game’s best left-backs inside out. Her ability to create for her teammates has also been complemented by the addition of important goals over the past 12 months. Her relationship in attack with Ada Hegerberg will be key to Norway’s World Cup hopes. — Marsden

Group stage games:

• July 20 vs. New Zealand (3 a.m. ET)
• July 25 vs. Switzerland (4 a.m. ET)
• July 30 vs. Philippines (3 a.m. ET)


4. Alexia PutellasSpain flag

Country: Spain
Age: 29
Club: Barcelona
Position: Central playmaking midfielder

Alexia Putellas goes into the World Cup as the back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner but with uncertainty over how big her impact will be at the tournament. The midfielder tore her ACL last summer, missing the European Championships with Spain and most of the club season with Barcelona.

She returned for the last six matches of the season, making a late cameo in the Champions League final, and scored in her first start for Spain in a year against Panama recently. However, she has still not completed 90 minutes in a single game, and it is unclear if she is ready to compete at the very top level yet. If she is ready, Spain will benefit from her goals, link-up play and leadership, which are world-class. — Marsden

Group stage games:

• July 21 vs. Costa Rica (3:30 a.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Zambia (3:30 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Japan (3 a.m. ET)


3. Sophia SmithUSA flag

Country: USA
Age: 22
Club: Portland Thorns
Position: Left wing/striker

Leading a generational shift within the U.S. women’s national team is Sophia Smith, the young forward who will likely score the bulk of the USWNT’s goals. As a striker in club play and primarily a winger for the U.S., Smith’s strength is in her confidence and audacity to go at goal. She’s not afraid to take on defenders, and she’s emerged as a ruthlessly incisive finisher as she has come into form for this World Cup. As she heads to New Zealand, she puts pause on a club season where she is the NWSL’s Golden Boot leader with 10 goals in 13 games.

The injuries to U.S. attackers Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario only put more pressure on Smith to step up and take on the goal-scoring burden, but her recent form suggests she’s more than ready for it. Whenever Smith is on the ball, it figures to be must-see. — Murray

Group stage games:

• July 21 vs. Vietnam (9 p.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Netherlands (9 p.m. ET)
• Aug. 1 vs. Portugal (3 a.m. ET)


2. Aitana BonmatiSpain flag

Country: Spain
Age: 25
Club: Barcelona
Position: Central midfield

In the absence of Alexia Putellas, who spent much of the past year sidelined with injury, Aitana Bonmati has taken the plaudits this past season as Barcelona won the Champions League for the second time in their history. Bonmati was named as the tournament’s best player by UEFA and played a key role, setting up the second goal, in the comeback win against Wolfsburg in the final.

A versatile midfielder, she told ESPN she feels more comfortable playing further forward, where she can better influence the game and contribute with goals and assists. In terms of her style, she is perhaps the best representation in the women’s game of the typical midfielder you associate with successful Barca and Spain sides: terrific technique, a wonderful touch and an ability to play in tight spaces. — Marsden

Group stage games:

• July 21 vs. Costa Rica (3:30 a.m. ET)
• July 26 vs. Zambia (3:30 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Japan (3 a.m. ET)


1. Sam KerrAustralia flag

Country: Australia
Age: 29
Club: Chelsea
Position: Striker

Sam Kerr is a big-game player. The bigger the stage, the more inevitable she becomes.

It’s a skill she’s honed over years and during her past three seasons, Chelsea fans have reaped the rewards of her innate love for the grandest stages. Her goals in FA Cup finals and on the final day of the season are stuff of legend. But now on home soil for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, it feels like it’s Australia’s turn to be treated to a Sam Kerr show unlike any they’ve seen before.

Fans, haters and neutrals alike will be treated to her killer instinct in front of goal, her intelligence in knowing when to lead and when to assist, supported by one the best Matildas’ attacking lines in history, and in front of an adoring home crowd. This is Kerr’s time. Enjoy the show. — Lordanic

Group stage games:

• July 20 vs. Ireland (6 a.m. ET)
• July 27 vs. Nigeria (6 a.m. ET)
• July 31 vs. Canada (6 a.m. ET)

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