With the recent news that EA Sports will feature 12 women’s national teams in FIFA 16, the profile of female footy couldn’t be higher heading into the Women’s World Cup, which begins this weekend in Canada. Packing 52 matches, the tourney’s TV audience should surpass the 400 million who tuned in for the 2011 Final. Consider this your viewer’s guide.
Alex Morgan, 25, Forward, USA: This California girl is one of the faces of the sport—and one of its highest paid thanks to sponsors like Nike, Panasonic and Coca-Cola. A lethal finisher, Morgan played a key role in the USA’s run to Olympic gold at London 2012. She’ll be aiming to add a World Cup trophy to the cabinet when the USA kicks off against Australia on June 8th.
Eniola Aluko, 28, Forward, England: Born in Nigeria, Aluko plays her club soccer for Chelsea Ladies. England opens June 9th against France, who KO’d them in the last World Cup. But Aluko, who has a law degree, has been reading a positive-thinking book about “beginning with the end in mind” and “as the World Cup kicks off... there is a strong image” in her head of winning it all.
Marta Vieira da Silva, 29, Forward, Brazil: The five-time FIFA World Player of the Year tops the Cup’s all–time scoring list and, like most Brazilian stars, goes by one name: Marta. The “female Pele” led her nation to silver at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, but the World Cup trophy still eludes this most tricky and skillful player. Will her beautiful game finally win out in 2015?
Sydney Leroux, 25, Forward, USA: Hailing from Canada, Leroux is a lightning rod for controversy thanks to everything from her national squad choice to her extensive ink to her appearance in ESPN’s Body Issue. But considering she totally rocks everything she does, we prefer to just sit back and enjoy the show—maybe even all the way to the Final in her home province of British Columbia.
Christine Sinclair, 31, Attacking Midfielder, Canada: Sinclair’s 153 international goals rank her third all time, and she almost single-handedly eliminated the USA at the London Olympics, netting a hat trick in a dramatic 4-3 semifinal loss. “I love the fact that our fans dislike some of their players, because it means they care,” says the Burnaby native, who carries the host country’s hopes into the tourney opener against China on June 6th.
Ji So-Yun, 24, Midfielder, South Korea: Dubbed the “Korean Messi” for her silky smooth skills and deadly set piece specials, 2013’s Asian Women’s Footballer of the Year is the best female player South Korea has ever produced. Now playing club soccer for Chelsea in England, Ji was named league MVP in 2015. She’ll help kick off her country’s tournament against Marta’s Brazil on June 9th.
Teresa Noyola, 25, Attacking Midfielder, Mexico: Once considered a future Team USA star, Noyola met with criticism for “not being physical enough, defending.” So she made the switch to Mexico as a better fit for her “more Latin style.” The former Stanford standout is now one of 10 American-raised or born players on Las Tri’s roster, including starters Alina Garciamendez, Bianca Sierra and Veronica Perez.
Nadine Angerer, 36, Goalie, Germany: Germany’s captain fantastic became the first goalie to not concede a single goal during a World Cup, leading her squad to the trophy in 2007 after serving as backup in 2003. In 2013 she was the first goalie to be named FIFA’s World Player of the Year. Winning a third title in Canada would cap an outstanding career—and make Germany rulers of both men’s and women’s soccer.
Verónica Boquete, 28, Attacking Midfielder, Spain: While she inspired her FFC Frankfurt team to the UEFA Women’s Champions League title last season, Boquete’s international breakthrough happened when she won the Women’s Professional Soccer Player of the Year Award in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Independence. This two-footed playmaker will join Frankfurt’s great rivals, Bayern Munich, next season. But first she’ll attempt to lead La Roja to World Cup glory.
Célia Šašić, 26, Forward, Germany: Born in Bonn to a Cameroonian father and a French mother, Célia’s diverse background deepened when she married Croatian footballer Marko Šašić. A natural goal scorer, Šašić racked up a whopping 14 goals alongside Boquete during Franfurt’s Champions League title run. Having tallied nine goals for Germany during World Cup qualifying, she’s a clear contender for the tournament’s Golden Boot award.
Aya Miyama, 30, Midfielder, Japan: Captain of the defending World Cup champs, Miyama was instrumental in the Nadeshiko’s surprising upset of Team USA in the 2011 Final. She followed up a goal during the match with a successful penalty kick in the shootout against her former club teammate Hope Solo. But ever the sporting professional, Miyama didn’t immediately celebrate Japan’s win, instead choosing to console Solo.
Wendie Renard, 24, Defender, France: Born in Martinique, Renard is a dominating 6’2” center back who led her Lyon side to the 2011 UEFA Women's Champions League title. Winning most of her aerial duels and a major threat at set pieces, Renard also scored five goals on Les Bleues’ way to Canada. France’s captain is an ambassador for Euro 2016, and she has opened her own restaurant in Martinique called, you guessed it, Wendie’s.