July 14, 2023, 8:28 a.m. ET
This summer’s Women’s World Cup will be one for the books. Not only is it the first co-hosted by multiple countries (matches will take place in Australia and New Zealand), but it could be the first to see a three-peat team as champions. If that’s not reason enough to get your anticipations up, it’s likely that it will also be the final World Cup appearance for some of the game’s greatest players.
Since the turn of the century, women’s soccer has experienced tremendous global growth. The many legends that assisted the expansion likely headed the sunset. This is the starting XI — playing lamely, far from being practically functional 3-4-3 — athletes who could take the stage at the World Cup for the last time.
Canadian forward Christine Sinclair is the all-time leader in international goals. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Keeping the writing of Marta’s tribute to a reasonable length proves to be the biggest challenge of this article. Marta’s 115 goals for Brazil are the most in the country’s history. His 172 caps are the second most in Brazilian history. He is the first player to score in five consecutive Olympics. He’s one of only three players to score at five different World Cups, with the chance to make it six by 2023. His 17 World Cup goals are the most of any player ever.
Picking a defining moment from Marta’s career is not easy. The 2007 World Cup appears in his mind as the pinnacle of his domination of the Seleção. However, Marta won the Golden Ball as well as the Golden Boot and took Brazil to the final. He accounted for less than half of all Brazil’s goals scored in the knockout stages, and his stunning winner against the United States in the semifinals earned Goal of the Tournament honors.
Christine Sinclair, Canada
Sinclair has the second most caps, and most goals, of any player in international football history. Alongside Marta, he is one of only three players to score in five World Cups, and like Marta, has a chance to make it six in 2023. It has been 23 years since Sinclair made his senior debut for Canada at the age of 16 and the award been rolling ever since.
Sinclair helped Canada achieve the best results at the World Cup and Olympic stages of his career. With Sinclair as captain, Canada claimed their first gold medal in women’s soccer at the 2020 Olympics, with Sinclair pulling the penalty that would earn Jessie Fleming’s equalizer in the final against Sweden.
Megan Rapinoe, United States of America
Whether it’s because of her ever-changing hair color or her ability to send devastating final balls into the box, Rapinoe has stood out on the court for the USWNT for years. While she is likely to have more of a substitute role this summer, it is more likely that Rapinoe will make her 200th appearance in Oceania. He’s “only” scored 63 national team goals (good for 10th on the all-time American leaderboard), but he has the ability to bring out the best in the biggest moments.
The highlight of Rapinoe’s career with the Stars and Stripes came during the 2019 World Cup in France. He scored in three of the United States’ four knockout matches, including the opener in the final against the Netherlands. With six goals in just five games – he missed the semi-final against England due to injury – Rapinoe earned the Golden Ball and Golden Boot honors as the USWNT lifted its second straight Cup.
No Swedish player has amassed more international caps than midfielder Caroline Seger. Christof Koepsel/Getty’s image
Eugenie Le Sommer, France
Le Sommer has played a number of roles in both forward and attacking midfield, but for the purpose of maintaining a reasonable balance in this hypothetical XI, he has been deployed as a midfielder. First capped in 2009, Le Sommer is France’s all-time leading goalscorer on the international stage.
Le Sommer will rejoin Les Bleues for the 2023 World Cup in dramatic circumstances. The 33-year-old had not been called up in nearly two years when a coaching change brought him back into favour. He returned in style, scoring an equalizer and a goal in a 5-2 comeback win over Colombia in April.
Sherida Spitse, The Netherlands
The youngest player on this list at 33 years old, Spitse has been a mainstay of the Dutch national team for nearly two decades. A tireless worker in midfield, Spitse is the all-time leader of the Dutch national team. He started every game for the Netherlands in three successive European championships and two successive World Cups.
The pinnacle of her streak may have come during Euro 2017, where the Netherlands captured their first women’s European title. Spitse scored three goals — including one in the final — in addition to an assist, while he was named to the Team of the Tournament.
Ria Percival, New Zealand
Percival’s road to his country’s 2023 World Cup came with many twists and turns. For a decade and a half, Percival was one of the most reliable players in international football – debuting at the age of 16 and going on to amass more than 150 caps to become New Zealand’s all-time leader in international appearances.
But last April’s brutal injury against Australia threw a wrench into Percival’s consistency. He missed the team’s first seven games in their 2023 World Cup build-up, a rarity for a player who has built a reputation as a name written in the Sharpie on any and all Football Fern lineups (New Zealand went 0-1-6 at that stretch). After completing his rehabilitation, he helped Ferns to a 2-0 win over Vietnam in his first game back. A veteran of four World Cups and four Olympics, few players this summer will have as much experience as Percival on the biggest stage.
Caroline Seger, Sweden
No European player has amassed more international caps than Seger, who has 232 caps to his name. He has served as the captain of Sweden since 2009, and since then his metronomic midfielder career has become more illustrious.
In his first World Cup as captain, he led Sweden to a third-place finish, a marked improvement from the shock group elimination Sweden had suffered four years earlier. Seger also led Sweden to back-to-back silver medals at the Olympics. In the 2020 edition of the Olympics, she helped Sweden beat a stunning USWNT world champion 3-0, ending the United States’ 44-game unbeaten streak.
Defender Clare Polkinghorne was one of the starters in Australia’s first Women’s World Cup win in 2007. Mark Kolbe / Getty Images
Noko Matlou, South Africa
Matlou will head to Oceania as one of the most capped African players ever. The Eibar veteran has over 150 international caps to his name. The absence of South Africa’s all-time caps leader Janine van Wyk, who would have made this list had injury not forced her to miss the tournament, means Matlou’s experience will be invaluable to a relatively young looking South African squad.
Only one Banyana Banyana player without Matlou is over 30 years old. The other defender on the South African line-up joins in making just half of Matlou’s appearances. The 2008 African Footballers’ Confederation of the Year has enjoyed a long career arc – developing from a highly acclaimed striker (including dozens of goals for South Africa) to a capable defender – and will continue that arc in his second World Cup. Trophy appearance.
Clare Polkinghorne, Australia
Australia’s all-time leader in caps, Polkinghorne has been a rock in the Matildas backline since he made his World Cup debut as an 18-year-old in 2007. Polkinghorne, assuming he recovers from the foot injury that has kept him out of competitive action since April, will enter the Cup. His fifth world in 2023.
Perhaps no player will appreciate the excitement that will come with Australia playing their game in front of a home crowd more than Polkinghorne, who has spoken at length about the growth of the game in his native country. throughout his career. The 34-year-old is synonymous with success for Australia: He started in the country’s first World Cup win as a teenager, then helped the Matildas progress to the knockout stages in four successive tournaments.
Kelley O’Hara, United States of America
Having the shortest international career on this list, O’Hara made his national team debut just 13 years ago. He made the most of his time with the USWNT, however, gathering hardware left and right. He has an Olympic gold medal and two World Cup titles to his international resume, and will add a third this summer.
The tough defender was never much for stat padding – scoring just 3 goals in 157 total caps – but he consistently added bite to the USWNT defense that few others matched. Like Rapinoe, he is likely to be a substitute this summer, but he will be counted on to provide the young American defense with invaluable off-field experience – the USWNT’s projected backline average age is just over 26 years.
Kim Jung-mi has been a mainstay of South Korea since her debut at the 2003 World Cup. Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Kim Jung-mi, South Korea
Earning the nod for this hypothetical squad is a No. 1st long for South Korea: Kim Jung-mi. Prior to 2003, South Korea had never qualified for the Women’s World Cup. Jung-mi started all three games as an 18-year-old in those historic appearances, and her steady hand at the net has played a big part in three consecutive appearances on the game’s biggest stage for the squad.
Jung-mi’s netting performance at the 2015 World Cup played a major role in South Korea advancing past the group stage for the first time in squad history, with their lowest World Cup goal difference. He missed the 2019 World Cup through injury as South Korea were once again eliminated in the group stages, but will be looking to repeat his 2015 appearance this summer.