6 Women We Can't Wait to See at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup
Less than a year after the French celebrated lifting the 2018 FIFA World Cup trophy in Russia, we are bracing ourselves for another global tournament. This time, the Women’s World Cup is hosted by France and is promising to be another one to remember. A total of 24 teams from 6 federations will participate in FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019. Out of those, Africa is represented by Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa. Of course, we are going to witness the likes of Asisat Oshoala and Thembi Kgatlana showcasing their talents against the world’s best players on the 6th of June. The only downside though would be the absence of the current best player in women’s football, Ada Hegerberg. Nonetheless, I am not discouraged as there are 6 other top players that I look forward to watching in action in this upcoming tournament. Here’s my list in no particular order.
1. Wendie Renard
If you have been following women’s football, you would know that there is one team that has been dominating the European scene which is Lyon. Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, as they are officially called, appeared in their 8th UEFA Women’s Champions League final since 2010 when they matched up against Barça Women on the 18th of May 2019. The Barcelona Women sought to end Lyon’s dominance only to receive a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of their French counterparts. The headlines shouted Ada Hegerberg, an expected blockbuster name, but little attention was paid to the people behind her. Specifically, the Lyon captain Wendie Renard.
Wendie Thérèse Renard is a central defender who was born in Schœlcher, Martinique. Ever heard of it? Me neither. Howbeit, she represents the French national team and also happens to be the skipper. These leadership qualities remind me of French legend Lilian Thuram who played for Barcelona. Wendie Renard’s contribution to her squads’ success has been immense. Her never-give-up attitude brings memories of a certain Chelsea legend, John Terry, who was famous for putting his life in the line for his team. Wendie Renard is not scared to dive into a challenge or throw her body to block a ball from going into the back of the net.
It is these qualities that have become rare to find in modern football where players are becoming more technically gifted and a little less rough about the defensive work. But not Wendie though. Wendie is a beast. That 4-1 win against Barcelona, a competent European team proficient in banging goals, shows her resilience as the leader of the backline. Her command built an impenetrable wall at the back and was unlucky to concede a consolation on the 89th minute at the hands of the Nigerian international, Asisat Oshoala. Imagine this passion and desire for the game being shared with a star-studded French team. Could Wendie Renard prove to be the key? That question would have to be answered later after assessing the next player.
2. Asisat Oshoala
That’s right. We jump ship next to the very person that could only manage to score against Wendie Renard in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Barcelona Women and Olympique Lyonnais Féminin. Asisat Oshoala has been a global phenomenon. She has represented some of the best clubs in the world starting at Liverpool Ladies, a brief stint at Arsenal Ladies before her current club, Barca Women. However, she also played for Dalian Quanjian FC in between her time at the London club and before the switch to Spain. Her qualities are apparent hence she’s always in demand. But who is she? And what is she capable of?
Our very own Simiso Shabangu wrote about her individual honors and how she has managed to win the Women’s African Player of the Year, BBC’s Women’s Player of the Year and was also the Most Valuable Player and highest goalscorer at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. It seems like it’s her thing to scoop such awards at prestigious tournaments. Could we witness her fighting her way to the top again in a couple of days when the FIFA Women’s World Cup commences on the 6th of June, 2019?
About her on-field style, Asisat Oshoala is a ruthless forward capable of scoring from anywhere. Her debut goal for FC Barcelona Femení, where she played on the shoulders of the Rayo defense and calmly controlled the balled in top-speed before sliding it under the onrushing goalkeeper, resembles the play of Thierry Henry who was brought in to score goals at the Blaugrana. If Nigeria are to challenge for the title, they will surely need goals from Asisat Oshoala. The 24-year-old will be leading the line with experience. I think she will definitely have a hand in all the juju on the pitch.
3. Vivianne Miedema
It is no easy feat to finish the season as the top goalscorer especially in the FA Women’s Super League table where there are clubs like Liverpool Ladies, Arsenal Ladies and Chelsea Women who are always on the lookout for the best players in the world to represent them and challenge for titles. This year, the trophy was lifted by Arsenal ladies many thanks to the top goalscorer Vivianne Miedema who scored 29 league goals in 25 matches. Across all competitions, she scored a total of 37 goals mirroring Robin Van Persie’s best season in an Arsenal shirt back in 2011/12 season. And to think, Vivianne Miedema is just 22 years old. There’s more to come from the youngster.
Hailing from the land of the Dutch, Vivianne is more than just another soccer player. Her dedication to promoting football among young girls is something worth recognition. Vivianne Miedema is a published author, having written a series of children’s books to inspire young girls to play football. She cites her family, many of whom played professionally, as her own inspiration. As such, Vivianne is a role model in her own way and sets a precedent for other women to promote women’s football. Despite her young age, Vivianne proves to be a leader.
When the Netherlands Ladies face New Zealand, Cameroon, and Canada in the group stage, they will need goals from the young center-forward. Vivianne has established herself as one of the best strikers in world football. Her track record speaks for itself, having debuted for Heerenveen in the Dutch top flight aged just 15, and going on to score 39 goals that season. That unbelievable season earned her a move to Bayern Munich where she helped them win the Bundesliga without losing a single match. Wherever she goes, success seems to follow her and she will be looking forward to maintaining the record in the world cup.
4. Lucy Bronze
Personally, there is nothing more fascinating than finding out the stories about footballers and the kind of lives they were living before the beautiful game transformed them. I cannot stop imagining how their lives would have turned out to be if they never left that low-paying job or if they had given up and just decided to never set foot on a pitch again. With Lucy Bronze, I got to know a few things about her background. She worked at Dominos at some point in her life where she enjoyed the benefits of free pizza. However, she previously stated that maths is her true calling in life, admitting that if she wasn’t a professional footballer, she would probably be an accountant.
But today, she stands as one of the best full-backs in the world. Plying her trade at Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, obviously, she has enjoyed club success. As mentioned above, their club battered Barcelona Women in the UEFA Champions League final and she was holding the right-back position. She has earned praise from England boss, Phil Neville who said, “Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world. Write that down, print that, because she is.” It is expected that such statements are made by your own coach right before a major tournament to boost the confidence of their players. Lucy Bronze will be participating in the upcoming competition for her nation England although she is half-Portuguese. But how does she play?
Coincidentally, Lucy Bronze very-much plays like Gary Neville, her current boss’ brother. The Manchester United Legend was popular for his precision in defense and the odd tough tackles when called upon. No wonder the England boss feels like she is the best player as she resembles a player who has gone down as one of the best in the English Premier League. Lucia Roberta Tough "Lucy" Bronze will be ready to do her defensive duties for England and her versatility to play anywhere across the backline and the midfield will come in handy in case of emergency.
5. Thembi Kgatlana
Another one of the headliners playing at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in France is Thembi Kgatlana from South Africa. Like Asisat Oshoala, Thembi Kgatlana is an African jewel. No wonder the battle for the CAF Women’s Player of the Year 2018 was a close tie between the two. In the end, the South African walked away with it and deservedly so. Thembi Kgatlana shined for Banyana Banyana at the 2018 African Cup of Nations finals where she scored a total of 5 goals, the most of any player at the tournament.
Margaret Mandeya describes Thembi Kgatlana as a dynamic and fast forward. I could not agree more. Her goal against Nigeria in the 2018 African Cup of Nations group stage match reminded me of a certain player that played for Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola. Her technique in possession of the ball and the ability to bolt past defenders is a reflection of Samuel Eto’o at his best. Thembi Kgatlana’s parents must be proud to see their daughter making headlines after being reluctant at some point to allow their dear child to play a sport that wasn’t popular especially down south. Now, Thembi is a role model for many African women who desire to play football as she has challenged the perception of soccer as a sport reserved for men.
Banyana Banyana qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals. This means that all eyes are going to be on Thembi to not only replicate her performances at the previous AFCON tournament but also to eventually win a trophy after they narrowly missed out in the 2018 Total Women’s African Cup of Nations. A tough ask, this is going to be as they face Spain, China, and Germany in their pathway before the knockout round. Surely, the 23-year old will have to bring her A-game and fire Banyana Banyana to the next round. This presents an opportunity for the young forward to test herself against the world’s best. If she sustains the pressure at this stage, Thembi Kgatlana will surely have a shoutout at the next Ballon d'Or ceremony. Too ambitious? Watch the tourney and tell me if I am wrong.
Arguably the greatest female player of all time, Marta Vieira da Silva is 33 years old going into the Women’s World Cup. She is a 6-time FIFA Player of the Year winner. The merits have not come by coincidence because Marta is an intelligent forward that resembles the Brazilian samba flair seen in the likes of Neymar who plays for PSG and the likes of Ronaldinho and Pele who played in the past. She tops it off with a killer instinct when through on goal. I cannot forget an iconic goal she scored at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup against the USA. Words cannot fully capture the scenes in the stadium when Marta flicked the ball with her back heel, subtracting one defender in the turn before chopping the last defender with a snakebite trick. The rest, you have to find out for yourself on YouTube.
Apart from that, Marta seems to be aging like fine wine. At 33 years old, she was recently voted as the Most Valuable Player by her teammates when she moved to Orlando Pride in the United States. The same can be said about Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Sweden who is making the right noises in the Major League Soccer with LA Galaxy after a blistering career across Europe. Marta resembles Zlatan in so many ways including the hunger for success. The player still feels capable of replicating her form in the previous tournaments and hopefully, she can prove the analysts wrong. Brazil is predicted to have an underwhelming tournament thanks to the 20-1 odds placed on their chances to win the competition.