The World Cup trophy is not the only thing up for grabs this summer, with the globe’s best players also battling it out for the Golden Ball

You can’t win a Women’s World Cup on your own, but some previous Golden Ball winners have come pretty close. A look back through prior tournaments reveals a long list of players who have dragged their teams – kicking and screaming in some cases – to glory.

Most recently, Megan Rapinoe lit up the 2019 World Cup in France, propelling the United States into the final four with successive braces in the knockout stages, before grabbing the breakthrough in the final against the Netherlands.

Eight years prior, Homare Sawa was honoured with the award after a thrilling campaign which ended with her sending Japan’s final against the U.S. to penalties with a 117th-minute strike. And these are just two of the long list of Golden Ball winners who have etched their names in the history books with a game-changing summer performance.

The stars on show at the 2023 Women’s World Cup will be dreaming of having a similarly decisive impact on their team’s fortunes. With the group stages well underway, GOAL has taken a look at which players are in the running to be awarded the Golden Ball this time around

11. Steph Catley (Australia)

Australia were handed a potential banana skin in their much-anticipated opening game against Ireland, and for a time it seemed like the underdogs might spring a shock.

However, the Matildas were gifted a lifeline when Hayley Raso was bundled over in the penalty area, giving captain Catley the chance to put her side ahead. She made no mistake from the spot, putting the cherry on top of a composed defensive display.

10. Melchie Dumornay (Haiti)

Here at GOAL, we’ve been banging on about Dumornay for some time, tipping her to become one of the best players in the world. On Saturday, she broke through into mainstream consciousness with an all-action midfield display against England.

The NXGN 2022 winner was absolutely everywhere in Brisbane, providing the spark for her side to put in one of the most inspired performances of the tournament so far. If Haiti are to squeeze through the group, Dumornay needs to continue playing to her potential.

9. Georgia Stanway (England)

England’s performance in their tournament opener against Haiti was flat for the most part. If anyone came away from the encounter with credit in the bank, though, it was Stanway. Not only did she score the only goal of the game from the penalty spot – showing typically strong character to convert a retake after seeing her initial effort saved – the Bayern Munich star also put in an influential display in and out of possession.

With Keira Walsh likely to be marked out of games this tournament, Stanway is going to need to drive this England team more so than ever.

8. Hannah Wilkinson (New Zealand)

Playing in the opening game of the World Cup is never easy, particularly when you’re the host nation. New Zealand handled the pressure expertly, though, shocking favourites Norway in Auckland.

Their spirited victory owed a lot to attacking focal point Wilkinson. She never gave the fearful Norway defence a moment’s rest and when the moment came to settle the game, the Melbourne City striker took it with both hands, smashing home Jacqui Hand’s low cross.

7. Teresa Abelleira (Spain)

Abelleira is not the best known player in the Spain squad, but she made a strong case to be one of their most important during the tournament with her fine display against Costa Rica.

Abelleira was brave on the ball, completing 21 progressive passes during her 77 minutes on the pitch. She was at her creative best too, racking up 15 shot-creating actions. It could be a real breakout tournament for the Real Madrid midfielder.

6. Hinata Miyazawa (Japan)

Before Germany dismantled Morocco and Brazil eased to victory over Panama, Japan could boast the biggest statement performance of the group stages. The 2011 winners defeated Zambia 5-0, with two of those goals being scored by Miyazawa.

Operating in the top-left corner of her side’s box midfield, she showed her off-the-ball intelligence throughout, timing her runs into the box perfectly for each of her well-taken goals. The challenge now is to do it against stronger opposition.

5. Aitana Bonmati (Spain)

Probably the best technician at the World Cup, Bonmati got off to a flying start against Costa Rica. As well as acting as one of Spain’s creative fulcrums, she scored one of the goals of the tournament so far.

Receiving the ball in a ridiculously congested penalty area, the Barcelona star pirouetted away from her marker and fired a pinpoint effort into the bottom left corner. It was a stunning strike, and with Alexia Putellas still working her way back to full fitness, Spain need Bonmati to show this same willingness to take responsibility in their other games.

4. Jun Endo (Japan)

Endo has been used in a variety of positions for Angel City this season, including in the forward line and as part of a back four. During the World Cup, though, it looks like Japan will be using her as a left wing-back – and it’s a role she suits perfectly.

Against Zambia, Endo was up and down that side constantly and ended proceedings with a goal and an assist, as well as a shed load of praise from people who hadn’t seen her play before.

3. Alexandra Popp (Germany)

Is there anyone in world football better in the air than Popp? The Wolfsburg goal-getter’s aerial brilliance was on full display in Germany’s curtain raiser against World Cup debutants Morocco, where she helped herself to a brace before half-time.

Her first was as simple a chance as you could hope for, but her second showed innovation. With Moroccan defenders marking her tightly, Popp wriggled free and contorted her neck, meeting Klara Buhl’s corner and sending the ball flying into the net.

2. Sophia Smith (United States)

This is very much a ‘changing of the guard’ tournament for the United States and no player embodies their exciting future more aptly than Smith. She was her side’s MVP against Vietnam, running the minnows’ defence ragged and bagging a brace.

Her first was an emphatic finish through the goalkeeper. For her second, she reacted quickly to bundle a scrappy shot through a crowd of players and into the net. With the Stars and Stripes braced to make a deep run in the World Cup, Smith has a good chance of winning the Golden Boot, as well as the player of the tournament award.

1. Ary Borges (Brazil)

Brazil were exquisite in their 4-0 victory over Panama, bringing a sprinkling of trademark flair to the tournament. No player encapsulated this liberated, attacking approach more than hat-trick hero Ary Borges.

Attacking competition is fierce in the Brazil side, but Ary made herself an automatic pick and early favourite for the Golden Ball with her standout display. The three goals were all well taken, but the highlight of her performance was the sublime backheel she produced for Beatriz to score the goal of the tournament so far.


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