The World’s Top Female Football Players
Women’s football (soccer) has made tremendous strides over the past few decades, becoming hugely popular, and respected, despite some not insignificant barriers to the female game. Today the women’s game is played across the world, with some 30 million women playing the sport, and with competitions and tournaments played at national, confederation and international level. It is truly a global story. So, when nominating the top women players, it is worth looking at players from across the world’s football confederations...and, not all top players are the headline-making, goal-scoring strikers:
Born in 1991 in Santiago, Christiane Endler has been playing football since she was ten years old. Since then she has won acclaim worldwide for her goalkeeping performances and is regarded as one of the best in the world. She currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain Féminine.
At over 6 foot (1.8 metres) tall, Endler is a natural to play in goal - a position she has held since she was 15 years old. Strong and quick, with an uncanny reflexes and ability to read aerial shots, she is the dependable last line of defence that gives her teammates the confidence to play their best. Described as a complete all-rounder, it is not surprising that, in the recent 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, her numerous heroic and athletic saves against Sweden and the USA led to her nomination as the Best FIFA Goalkeeper for that year.
It is not just on the playing field that Endler is a top player. She has also become a great role model for young women in Chile. Deeply committed to building all-female football schools in her homeland, Endler is offering girls and young women the chance, not only to play football but to feel valued and worthwhile in a country somewhat behind on gender equality. She has also played a significant part in setting up one of the first women's football unions.
Goalkeepers have a reputation for staying in the game well into their 30s, so we should enjoy seeing Christiane Endler's athletic, brave and inspiring play for years to come yet.
Born in California in 1985, Megan Rapinoe has been playing football since she was a small child, competing at all levels of the game in winger and midfield positions. Such is her skill level and durability that she has been involved in three FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments (2011, 2015 and 2019). She has also claimed numerous National and International awards, including the coveted Ballon d'Or Féminin (2019), the FIFA Golden Boot and Golden Ball (2019), and Best FIFA Women's Player (2019). She is currently captain of the OL Reign women's team (Tacoma, Washington) and co-captain for the USA national women's football team.
There are many 'good' wingers and midfield players, but Rapinoe is better than just good, her football-playing arsenal is immense. She is the player that out of nowhere and from a seemingly slow pace, runs the ball at a sprint half the length of the pitch, skillfully dribbles past players, holds on to the ball, even under enormous pressure, and scores a terrific long-distance goal. With an eye for the goal, she scores with calculated ease from the penalty spot and is the only player, man or woman, to have scored directly from a corner kick. She is also the player that turns the game around with a beautifully placed cross for her teammate to score (she has probably made as many assists as she has scored goals).
And it is not just on the pitch that Rapinoe has made her mark. She has actively supported issues as far-ranging as women player's equal pay, the rights of minority groups and the use of artificial turf in stadiums.
When you watch Megan play, you are seeing one of the most unpredictable, exciting and influential players in the game.
Born in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1991, Lucy Bronze began playing with a local U-12s team. Since then she has played for some of the country's most famous clubs – Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City. She currently plays for the Olympique Lyonnais Féminin women's football team.
Bronze has been representing her country since 2007 (U17s). She joined the senior national team in 2013 and has since played in two FIFA World Cups (2015 and 2019). In 2019 she won the UEFA Women's Player of the Year to add to the collection of National and International awards that she already has.
Reliably proactive, aggressive, and strong, she is rarely beaten in defence – ideal skills for a full back. However, better than that, she is the full-back that brings a new dimension to her team's attack. Dynamic and fast, Bronze reads her opponent's intentions well and can spot gaps in a defending line, suddenly cutting through and initiating an attack. Then you can expect her to follow this up with a signature cross, accurate and composed, or powerhouse shot...the incredible goal that she scored in the 2019 World cup quarter-final is an excellent example of these skills.
Lucy is rightly recognised as one of the best players in the World, and, in her position as right full-back...the best.
Born in Ikorodu in 1994, Asisat Oshoala left home and school at the age of 15 to follow her dream to play professional football. In just ten years, she has more than achieved that dream. Currently playing for Barcelona Femini (who valued her enough to extend her original 2019 on-loan contract to 2022), she has been nominated as the best player and top goal scorer for top teams on three continents (Africa, China and Europe). Now the captain of Nigeria’s national women’s team (the Super Falcons), Asisat has been the African Women’s Footballer of the Year a total of four times. In recognition of the opportunities that football has given her, Oshoala set up a Foundation to support young girls in Africa who want to play football.
Oshoala is a goal-scoring machine. She has an abundance of football skills – she is strong, good in the air, fast and consistent, she can dribble, chase down long passes and through balls, hold off the ball and provide good passes. But it is her movement off the ball that is her most exciting talent. Roaming around the pitch, drawing defenders away from the play, popping up all around the box, she is always looking for the chance to score with an explosive, first touch, finishing shot.
At only 26 years old Oshoala has plenty of time to become the World’s best centre forward...which is what everyone is predicting.
Born in Sapporo, Japan in 1990, Saki Kumagai followed a professional football career after finishing high school (where she played for the school team). Since then, she has only played at three clubs. Her current club is Olympique Lyonnais where she has been since 2013 – recognising her worth they recently extended her contract (again) to 2021. Kumagai has played for Japan at U-19 and U-20 levels, she has played over 110 games for the National Women’s Football Team, playing at two FIFA World Cup tournaments (2011 and 2015), and was named captain in 2018.
Playing midfield, Kumagai is not a prolific goalscorer, but rather, she is at the hub of the team intercepting balls and feeding the forwards with inch-perfect passes (reflecting her dedication to training). That does not mean that she does not score goals. When the team needs someone calm and experienced to take a vital penalty, it is Kumagai who steps forward (as she has done on so many occasions). Playing defensively, Kumagai is strong and confident, supporting her team in conceding only six goals in 20 games during one season.
Kumagai was justifiably named the Asian Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2019 – she is a true professional, a team player who is the solid foundation for her team and an example for young women players coming into the game.
Born in Whangarei in 1989, Abby Erceg is probably the greatest of New Zealand’s women footballers. She currently plays and is the captain of the North Carolina Courage team in the USA. She has also played for German, Spanish and Australian teams. Since her first game for the New Zealand National Women’s Team (The Ferns) in 2006, Erceg has earned 138 caps. She has represented her country in two U-20s tournaments, four Women’s World Cups and two Olympics competitions. She was named captain of the Ferns in 2014.
With all this history, Erceg is the veteran that brings skills, leadership and experience to the Ferns. She is a strong and aggressive defender – “an absolute rock and one of the most motivational captains around”. As recently as 2018, she was named Defender of the Year after her American team broke the record for the fewest goals conceded in a season. Despite retiring twice (in 2017 and 2018) Erceg, the great team player, is still coming out to play for her country.
Erceg is a real fighter. She was a part of the Ferns team who fought back from oblivion on the international stage at the beginning of this century. On the pitch, her fighting spirit shows in the leadership of her team’s defence. Off the pitch, she has also fought against poor team management - retiring from the team in protest in 2017. Let’s hope she is still there leading and fighting for her team for a few years to come yet!
Closer to Home
Closer to home, Qatar’s national women’s team goalkeeper, Shaima Abdullah, is an outstanding example of the new generation of women playing football. Having started to kick a ball around at six years of age, now, at 25, she has been an important part of the development of women’s football in Qatar.
Abdullah’s involvement in football in general, and as part of the national women’s football team and their struggles to gain support and recognition, have made her a forefront face of Qatari women’s football advancement. However, she also actively campaigns for the female sport through her work with the national social development project, Generation Amazing. The project aims to use the power of sport, in particular football, to positively impact on society, especially youth culture - tackling issues such as gender equality.
When she is not helping youngsters through the Generation Amazing project, or studying at Qatar University, or doing a coaching diploma course, she dreams of playing for Qatar at the Women’s World Cup and in the Women’s Asia Cup. And if that is not enough, she would also like to be the first Qatari woman to be the goalkeeping coach for the national team. As an aside, she also won the 2020 Feminist Practice Award for her activism and involvement in projects and programmes designed to support fellow students, girls and minority groups.
Let’s hope Abdullah’s football dreams come true and in the following years Qatar’s national women’s team starts to make their mark on the world.
The popularity of women’s football today has been a hard-won battle, find out the history behind the ladies game in our article, The Making of Women’s Football.
Qatari Women’s Football has been fighting a similar battle to have their sport recognised, read our Women’s Football in Qatar article to see the state of play in the 21st Century.
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