2019 WWC Review: Five Breakout Stars of the Tournament (Stars of the future)

WE ALL WIN

One of the most secure bets in the entire world will always be on Thembi. As South Africa took on Spain in their first ever world cup finals match in France 2019, she got the landmark goal.
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa

Inside a close to 60 000 capacity filled Lyon Olympic Stadium, an aura of love and triumph filled the air. Rumblings, hummings, cheers and all kinds of sounds that can be heard when thousands of voices come together for a common goal and spectacle. Most audibly were the chants, “USA…USA… USA,” the Stars and Stripes had put two goals past the Oranje of Netherlands to claim the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a second successive world cup gold and a record fourth for the Americans. Obviously the Dutch players and supporters weren’t the most joyful in that stadium but their ponytailed hair, orange painted faces and the three striped flags still hoisted high sent a clear message of momentary disappointment at a lost battle but everlasting delight of a won war. Just outside the stadium, in France, Europe, America and all across the world; watch parties satisfactorily concluded and the interviewed supporters in New York, who wore “Team USA” apparel could be heard saying, their women’s team “are like superheroes,” tears of joy streaming down their cheeks also bearing witness to the said words.

A historic 60 000 capacity stadium filled for a women’s game is an applaudable feat, but so are the 14.3 million viewers who were watching on their television sets all across the USA alone, pipping the 11.4 million that watched the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup. In the grasp of the monumental milestones for the women’s game, young and daring upcoming stars who grabbed the world cup opportunity by the scruff of its neck posed a stubborn assurance of what’s to come in the near future. In other words, it’s all just getting started.

Lest we forget, we took some time to list down five of the breakout stars of the France 2019 tournament, we should all keep a keen eye on in the near future. Without further ado, let’s get it!

VIVIANNE MIEDEMA - NETHERLANDS & ARSENAL

Vivianne Miedema of Netherlands reacts during the Group A match between Belgium and Netherlands during the UEFA Women's Euro 2017 at Koning Willem II Stadium on July 24, 2017 in Tilburg, Netherlands.  (July 23, 2017 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe

Vivianne Miedema of Netherlands reacts during the Group A match between Belgium and Netherlands during the UEFA Women's Euro 2017 at Koning Willem II Stadium on July 24, 2017 in Tilburg, Netherlands.

(July 23, 2017 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe

Background

Graceful. That’s how I can describe her. It’s like she has some ice in her veins. At only 23, the common age for upcoming players, she is already the all-time top goal scorer for the Netherlands women’s national team. Vivianne’s 61 goals tally even surpass the record for the men’s team held by Robin van Persie.

The young forward started playing football as early as the age of 5. Since then, the Hoogeveen born player hasn’t stopped quickly climbing up the ranks while taking the world by storm. Miedema made her senior career debut with SC Heerenveen in her home country, scoring 78 goals in 69 appearances after which she was quickly snapped up by Bayern Munich once she reached eighteen. After 3 years in Germany, a time in which she was part of a Bayern side that finished the 2014/15 season unbeaten and won the league title for the first time since 1976, Miedema linked up with FA WSL side, Arsenal. It was also during her Bayern spell that the forward earned the reputation of “being the most gifted striker in Europe.” It’s actually easy to see why.

Playing style

By reason of having grown up idolizing the Arsenal and Dutch legend, Robin van Persie, her game and manner of playing is very much like the 35-year-old Feyenoord forward. Although, careful mention needs to be made that Vivianne is the first of her name; in all aspects. Standing at 1.75m tall, she is relatively taller than most women footballers and poses a strong and imposing figure in the opponent’s box. She is in the top 0.01% when it comes to hold-up play, that is excellent first touch and releasing other wide players even as she maintains the furthest and most central attacking position at both Arsenal and the Netherlands. Most remarkably, Miedema is praised for her “killer instinct.” You don’t have to take my word for it, former Dutch coach, Roger Reijners described her as that, after helping the nation secure its first ever world cup qualification in 2015. The Arsenal forward can carve out defences, wriggle past markers, make something out of nothing, possesses the fiercest of shots and is very good in the air.

What’s to come?

She has been the Dutch team’s main striker and star player. The team that won the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship and the 2019 FIFA Wold Cup silver medal. She scored her first three world cup goals to help the Netherlands go all the way to their first world cup final. After also having racked up a record 22 FA WSL goals in Arsenal’s title winning 2018/19 season, winning the PFA Players’ Player of the year and several other individual accolades during the course of her career, it’s clear that much more is to come. With at least 7 years left in her football career, one would be very unwise not consider her as a possible future Balon d’Or winner.

ROSE LAVELLE – USWNT AND WASHINGTON SPIRIT

Rose Lavelle of USA during the international friendly between Sweden and USA at Ullevi Stadium on June 8, 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden.  (June 7, 2017 - Source: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images Europe)

Rose Lavelle of USA during the international friendly between Sweden and USA at Ullevi Stadium on June 8, 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

(June 7, 2017 - Source: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images Europe)

Background

This is the lady who exploded towards the Netherlands box, carved out the defence and scored the insurance goal, the one that wrapped up the US Women’s National Team’s 2-0 world cup title win against the Netherlands in front of a 60 000 capacity stadium. The Cincinnatti, Ohio born girl who picked “professional soccer player,” as her intended career in a 3rd grade book report, is much more than that now. Just a few weeks ago, she took home the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Bronze ball after being recognised as the third best player of the tournament behind world cup winning captain, Megan Rapinoe and England’s Lucy Bronze. In only her first ever world cup appearance since debuting for the world champions in 2017.

The 24-year-old Lavelle started playing soccer at a tender age and has gradually climbed up the ranks of U.S youth teams. After a hugely successful 4-year collegiate career with the Wisconsin Badgers, Lavelle has had a highly nomadic career representing all of Dayton Dutch Lions twice, Seattle Sounders, Boston Breakers and now the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Playing style

As an extremely hard-working box to box midfielder, it’s easy to explain why Lavelle has managed to score 10 goals in 33 appearances for her country since her debut in 2017. Midfielders don’t usually rack up such numbers. Rose is a dynamic, quick, intelligent and very composed player who seem to have a maturity least expected of her age. That world cup final goal against the Dutch goes a long to explain what she’s like; quick, tricky, direct, fearless and ruthless.

What’s to come?

As the youngest player who was a consistent presence in the USWNT and started the world cup final, we don’t have to look very far if we are to play a game of identifying future stars and captains of the USWNT. Her bronze ball win at the 2019 FIFA Women’s world cup is surely the first of many widely acclaimed international individual accolades to come. It sure looks like Rosemary is going to need more space to contain her over 14 individual accolades won during her collegiate career and many more to come.

KEIRA WALSH – ENGLAND AND MANCHESTER CITY

Keira Walsh of England during the International Friendly between England Women and Australia Women at Craven Cottage on October 9, 2018 in London, England.  (Oct. 8, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

Keira Walsh of England during the International Friendly between England Women and Australia Women at Craven Cottage on October 9, 2018 in London, England.

(Oct. 8, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

Background

You cannot talk the future of English football without mentioning the name Keira Fae Walsh coming up more than once, obviously together with other headlining young stars such as Georgia Stanway. Just like the aforementioned USWNT’s Rose Lavelle, Walsh was England’s youngest player in their semi-final clash against the Americans and for the greater part of the tournament, if not throughout. Coincidentally, just like Lavelle, they all help anchor the midfield of their nations. The 22-year-old Rochdale born midfielder first burst onto the scene in 2014 appearing as a substitute for FA WSL’s Manchester City. The wheels just never came off from hence forth, playing a total of more than 64 competitive fixtures for the Manchester Blue. Also, interestingly similar to Lavelle, Walsh was also making her FIFA World Cup debut for the Three Lionesses in France and it’s safe to say she took it with aplomb.

Style of play

Walsh’s composure makes you wonder if she takes ice for breakfast. She is not the kind to run up the pitch and knack-in some goals but rather prefers to stay put and cover her defensive frontline, which worked seamlessly well as she partnered with a more experienced and advanced midfielder, Jill Scott in England’s set-up. Walsh hardly does the spectacular and really doesn’t need to. Her first touch, pin point accurate passes, tackles and ability to break-up opposition play ensures she really becomes an anchor of any midfield fortunate enough to have her.

What’s to come?

After a highly successful start to her Manchester City career that has seen Keira learn to win as they captured 6 major trophies in 5 years which include an FA Women’s Super League title and 2 FA Cups, she is just going to win so much more. With a lot of years ahead of her and the legs to run them, future England success will most probably have her fingerprints all over it. Quote me anywhere and I will say now and maybe forever;

Keira Walsh, that’s a future English captain right there.

KADI DIANI – FRANCE AND PSG

Kadidiatou Diani of France during the friendly match between France Women and Australia Women at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on October 5, 2018 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Oct. 4, 2018 - Source: Marc Atkins/Getty Images Europe)

Kadidiatou Diani of France during the friendly match between France Women and Australia Women at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on October 5, 2018 in Saint-Etienne, France.

(Oct. 4, 2018 - Source: Marc Atkins/Getty Images Europe)

Background

Ask all the players who were less fortunate to be entrusted with the role of marking her in the just ended FIFA world cup and they will tell you all about Kadidiatou Diani. The 24-year-old pacey winger really has an enviable relationship with the ball, able to do whatever she wants with it. In France’s run to the quarter-finals where they lost 1-2 to eventual winners, the USWNT, Diani was a constant presence on the right flank, tracking back and unrelenting in the offensive. Whenever she held the ball, something special always seemed most likely to happen and yes she did leave defenders in sixes and sevens once or twice with her bag of tricks and directness. Kadi was born in Ivry-sur-Seine, France and first played senior professional football for Juvisy between 2010-17 before joining Paris Saint Germain. She has since scored 19 goals in 44 appearances for the Parisians and capped 51 times by the France national team since her international debut in 2014.

Playing style

The PSG forward didn’t score a handful of goals during the world cup but her work on the right channel was there for all to see, a super exciting player to watch that reminds many of the exploits of French legend, Thierry Henry. Full of confidence, supersonic pacey and power; Kadi is fully aware that she can take on any challenging player in the business, evidenced by the high rate of successful dribbles per match. Her work-rate which has seen her recover balls and force mistakes off defenders, illustrates an admirable skill set of a modern player who is equally as good on the ball just as she is off it.

What’s to come?

At only 24-years of age, Kadi looks an indispensable figure on the right flank of Les Bleues, a collectively young, progressive and hungry side tipped to start winning some elusive major silverware in the near future. She may have scored just 10 goals in 51 appearances for France but every logical aspect of her style of play, career and growth tells the story of much more to come. Soon enough, the most memorable moments of her career won’t be limited to the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup where she bagged 4 goals and helped France to the title; Kadi’s next big moment might just define the future of football as a whole.

THEMBI KGATLANA – SOUTH AFRICA AND BEIJING BG PHOENIX F.C

Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa runs with the ball during the Women's Group E first round match between South Africa and China PR on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Aug. 5, 2016 - Source: Harry How/Getty Images South America)

Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa runs with the ball during the Women's Group E first round match between South Africa and China PR on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

(Aug. 5, 2016 - Source: Harry How/Getty Images South America)

Background

This is not obviously the first time we are writing about Thembi here at First Touch. The 23-year-old has been undoubtedly the best player on the continent in the past year after playing a starring role for South Africa’s silver medal win at the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations and in securing a historic world cup finals debut appearance for Banyana Banyana. The young forward was on song throughout the 2018 Ghana AFCON finals, taking home the top goal scorer award, the best player of the tournament accolade and also bagging several others at the 2018 CAF Awards Gala. Kgatlana became somewhat a revelation to many when she first appeared on the international scene in 2018. Before then, the South African forward had been silently on the grind in the books of the University of Western Cape in the Southern African nation. She has since moved to the U.S National Women’s Soccer League side, Houston Dash and now represents the Chinese Women’s Super League side, Beijing BG Phoenix.

Style of play

Before her, not many as quick as her, slick, direct, in possession of the most powerful shot and having that sort of killer instinct had been seen rising up and shining on the continent. She announced herself to the world with a cracker of a goal on the edge of the box as Banyana registered a 1-0 win over defending champions Nigeria, in their 2018 AWCON opening match.

What’s to come?

One of the most secure bets in the entire world will always be on Thembi. As South Africa took on Spain in their first ever world cup finals match against Spain in France 2019, she got the landmark goal. A woman who shines everywhere and one who has become the face of the future of African football.

FINAL NOTE

Conclusively, Vivianne, Rose, Keira, Kadi and Thembi are really some of the most exciting stars to keep an eye on in the near future. Who else makes this list?

A historic 60 000 capacity stadium filled for a women’s game is an applaudable feat, but so are the 14.3 million viewers who were watching on their television sets all across the USA alone, pipping the 11.4 million that watched the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup. In the grasp of the monumental milestones for the women’s game, young and daring upcoming stars who grabbed the world cup opportunity by the scruff of its neck posed a stubborn assurance of what’s to come...
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa