The largest Women’s World Cup ever has already produced its share of top class performances, ones that have taken some Canadian soccer fans’ minds away from analyzing whether their men’s national team will lose 8-1 to Honduras this World Cup cycle.
With the four-round knockout stage upon us, here is a quick look back at the standout performers from the group stage – the best XI of the entire first round. This team is based not only on individual performances but the level of opposition; sorry, the hat tricks German attackers Célia Šašić and Anja Mittag posted against Cote d’Ivoire are not good enough to put them on the list.
GK: Luciana (Brazil)– Goalkeeping has long been a question for Brazil’s national teams. It certainly has been a major reason, along with a lack of resources and just competent coaching, why the talented and passionate Samba queens have yet to win either a World Cup or Olympics. That could change with the surprisingly solid and stable presence that has been the 27-year-old Luciana. She remains the only starting goalkeeper to not concede a goal this tournament and has clearly been the opposite of how poor Andreia was four years ago.
D: Meghan Klingenberg (United States) – Normally anyone doing a Kristine Lilly impersonation would be scoring goals for the United States. But with the U.S. forwards not really on the best form at the moment (two goals in three games from the quintet of Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Christen Press, Sydney Leroux, and Amy Rodriguez), the diminutive, baby-faced 26-year-old provided that Lilly-esque moment with her goal line clearance against Sweden. It was the 1999 World Cup Finals-like highlight of a terrifically solid group stage from the left back, who formed one quarter of the best part of the current U.S. team.
D: Julie Johnston (United States) – The 23-year-old has been nothing short of a revelation this tournament. Despite not having elite pace or much experience, Johnston has quieted the major whispers about her coming into this tournament with outstanding positioning, precocious awareness of the game and surprising recovery speed to execute last-ditch defending. If she keeps her level up, the U.S. will have a great chance of winning its third World Cup.
D: Kadeisha Buchanan (Canada) – Though Johnston has been impressive, she could only dream of being as good at 19 as Canada’s rising star is now. Called the “Christine Sinclair of the Canadian backline” for many reasons, Buchanan has lived up to the massive hype and handled the pressure on her and her teammates at home. Fast, strong, smart, and skillful, we could be seeing the emergence of the best defender in the women’s game for next decade.
D: Fabiana (Brazil) – Another important reason for Brazil being the only team to not give up a goal has been the right back’s disciplined play. Brazil fullbacks are known first for being extra offensive midfielders who just are put in the back, with defending a secondary choice. The opposite has been the case with the 25-year-old Centro Olimpico player, who has made her first job preventing teams from having clear chances with timely interventions.
CM: Formiga (Brazil) – While Marta deservedly gets most of the credit, the other rock of Brazil for the last decade has been the ageless 37-year-old, who has provided that great two-way play that makes her so invaluable to the Samba queen’s hopes of finally getting a global title.
CM: Wang Lisi (China) – Part of the new, resurgent era of Chinese women’s soccer, the 23-year-old was nothing short of spectacular. Her touch has been immaculate, and her set piece delivery and attempts at free kick goals have been of the highest caliber. Lisi is a little unfortunate not to be at the top of the tournament’s goal scoring chart after the group stages.
CM: Lady Andrade (Colombia) – Coming into the tournament, it was Yoreli Rincón who was expected to take Colombia to the heights its women’s team had seen been before. But it has instead been the 23-year-old Andrade that has been the standout for the lady Coffee Growers. Andrade’s dribbling and touch have been instant social media hits, and her goal against France fueled a historic win that helped propel her team into its first ever knockout stage. Not bad for a young player better known for giving Abby Wambach a cheap shot elbow.
RWF: Gabrielle Onguene (Cameroon) – Speaking of revelations, the Cameroon ladies have been nothing sort of that, and their 4’11″ dynamo has formed a potent one-two punch with Gaelle Enganamouit. Onguene’s tremendous pace, solid touch and willingness to go at defenders whenever she has the chance have been a catalysts in Cameroon advancing out of the group stage. It makes you further shake your head in disbelief that the 26-year-old piles her trade in the Russian second division. (Yes, the Russian second division).
LWF: Lisa De Vanna (Australia) – Arguably the MVP of the entire group stage, the 30-year-old Australian has simply been the Arjen Robben of this World Cup. Already blessed with world-class ability, the pacy De Vanna lacked the consistency game in and game out in these global competitions to make a defining impact for her team. She has more than found that consistency this go around, factoring in the Matildas’ goals in each of their games in the Group of Death and in leading them to a Round of 16 duel with Brazil.
CF: Gaëlle Enganamouit (Cameroon) – The player with by far the best, or at least most colorful, hairstyle this entire World Cup has backed her standout look with standout play. From the moment Cameroon’s first world championship tournament began, Enganamouit has left an indelible mark on this competition with her blistering pace, power and finishing ability. She and the aforementioned Onguene have staked their claim as the competition’s most lethal duo.
Bench: Hope Solo (United States); Bianca Schmidt (Germany), Wendie Renard (France), Becky Sauerbrunn (United States), Tamires (Brazil); Katrina Gorry (Australia), Ramona Bachmann (Switzerland), Anja Mittag (Germany); Marta (Brazil), Celia Sasic (Germany), Eugenie Le Sommer (France)
Honarable mention, Ange N’Guessan (Ivory Coast) – The shortest player in this tournament, at the height of 4’7, N’Guessan played bigger than all of her competitors with her electrifying speed and infinite energy for the African debutants. Going this whole piece not mentioning her heroic displays would be about as whack as Nigeria coach Edwin Okon not shaking the hand of American coach Jill Ellis.
I mean, seriously, what man does that at a Women’s World Cup? Edwin Okon, that’s who.