Amid the damage and protests, the 2023 Women’s World Cup will lose some of its star power. Some of the sport’s biggest names across the federation have announced they will not travel to Australia and New Zealand, many due to untimely injuries. While key losses are hard to hurt for any team, they also give veterans and rookies a chance to step up, with some serious shoes to fill.
Here are 10 players who could make an impact at the World Cup.
Alessia Russo, England
The Lionesses need a creative presence in attack, with Arsenal superstar Beth Mead sidelined by an ACL injury sustained by her club in a game in November. Mead helped England to the team’s first Euro 2022 title, netting a staggering six goals and four assists throughout the tournament. Without the 28-year-old, the focus will turn to the Lionesses’ stockpile of firepower, headlined by Russo, who at 24 is considered the future—and present—of English football. Russo has already shown what he can do in big moments, hitting the shot at the ’22 Euro, putting a stunning back-heel goal behind Sweden in the semifinal. The Lionesses hope to see more of Russo’s finishing finesse in Australia and New Zealand as England look to claim their first World Cup trophy.
Millie Bright, England
In another significant blow to Sarina Wiegman’s team, captain Leah Williamson will not travel to the World Cup with her England squad. The Arsenal defender injured his ACL during his club’s April match against Manchester United, ruling him out of contention for this summer’s tournament. A steady presence in the backline and leader off the pitch, Williamson is not easily replaced, meaning the veterans will have to step up. One of those veterans is Bright, who has been a pillar of England’s defense since his debut in 2016 and was a key player in the group’s ’22 Euro title run. The Chelsea defender will wear the captain’s armband in his second World Cup, leading one of the most talented squads England has ever fielded.
Places called Alana Cook in the United States
It’s well documented that USWNT captain and stalwart Becky Sauerbrunn will miss what would have been her fourth World Cup. A chronic foot injury will keep the 38-year-old stateside this summer – a sad loss for the US Sauerbrunn’s impact on and off the field is difficult to get completely, with the defender being the heart and soul in this group. In his absence, the US will rely on the centerback pairing of 26-year-old Cook and 23-year-old Naomi Girma—none of whom have played in a World Cup. Girma has been the focus of much hype after winning the 2022 NWSL Rookie and Defender of the Year awards and starting five games for the USWNT this year. Cook has had an impressive early career himself, first with PSG and then OL Reign, and now he has the chance to prove himself on the world stage.
Places called Lieke Martens in Holland
There is no replacing a striker like Vivianne Miedema, with the Arsenal striker being one of the greatest advocates of his generation. The Dutch, however, should try to perform at this World Cup while Miedema recovers from an ACL injury sustained in December. Luckily for the Netherlands, it has the reliable mainstay of Martens on its roster. The 30-year-old has a unique ability to cut through the center and poses a threat in the final third, while also dropping into the midfield, opening up the team’s attacking space. New coach Andries Jonker will look to Martens to link up with players like Sherida Spitse and Jill Roord to fill the offensive void left by Miedema.
Places called Kadidiatou Diani in France
France, like many other teams, will not be a serious goal-scoring threat at the World Cup, as Marie-Antoinette Katoto continues to recover from an ACL injury she sustained at Euro 2022 . With 148 goals, he is PSG’s leading scorer at the age of 24, with a keen ability to exploit space and get in behind the backlines. Without him, Les Bleus will likely rely on Diani. The 28-year-old has scored 17 goals in 17 games for PSG this season, earning him the Division 1 Féminine Player of the Year award. Diani proved himself to be lethal in front of the goal and makes it easier for those around him, dropping deeper up the pitch and reading the build-up to create chances.
Places called Eugenie Le Sommer in France
Les Bleus were given a lot of bad news when it was announced that veteran forward Amandine Henry has been sidelined with a calf injury just weeks before the start of the World Cup. Like Katoto, Henry is an integral part of France’s attack and also provides an experienced presence, with 93 caps to his name. The team will look for other experienced players such as Le Sommer, the leading scorer of goals in France (88 goals), who has returned to Les Bleus after a two-year absence due to a dispute with the former coach Deacre Corinne. The 34-year-old, a known quantity, will inject a masterful quality into the attack, and, along with captain Wendie Renard, will be tasked with leading this French side.
Nickelle Prince, Canada
Canada manager Bev Priestman called Janine Beckie “impossible to replace” after the 28-year-old’s season-ending ACL injury, which she suffered in a preseason game with her NWSL club, the Portland Thorns. Canada, hoping to follow up on an Olympic gold medal, will have to continue its World Cup quest without Beckie on the frontline. The star forward is particularly dangerous on the flanks, causing problems for opposing fullbacks while serving up punishing crosses into the box. The Prince of the Houston Dash, equally menacing on the wing. Prince is coming off a long rehab process for an Achilles injury, but if the 28-year-old is fully healthy in time for the tournament, he has a chance to be a game-changer for Canada.
Places called Alexia Putellas in Spain
As the reigning Ballon d’Or winner, it’s not as if Putellas will fill any shoes, per se, but he will be under more pressure as Spain’s leader amid a turbulent season for the squad. . In September 2022, 15 members of Spain’s national team, publicly supported by Putellas, called on their federation to make internal changes, including coach Jorge Vilda. Several of those players returned to the fold for the World Cup, (and Putellas, returning from injury), but other important parts remained strong in their absence from the team, including defender Mapi León. “At the moment, I’m out of the World Cup. It’s embarrassing,” León told RAC1. “This is not a decision to be taken lightly, but my decision is clear. Mapi León has a way of life and values that cannot be restored if the situation does not change. Without stars like León, and with the RFEF still in turmoil, Putellas will be charged with leading this Spanish side—a tall order even for a player of his stature.
Places called Lina Magull in Germany
Germany is not immune from the injury issues plaguing women’s soccer, with Bayern Munich’s Giulia Gwinn and Linda Dallmann out for the World Cup. Gwinn provides a youthful energy to Germany’s backline, with Dallmann a reliable fixture in the squad’s midfield. Experienced players like Magull, who received his first call-up to the senior national team in 2015, should step up to fill the gaps left by the likes of Dallmann, who played in all of Germany’s matches during the ’22 Euros. Magull is certainly up for the challenge, as a versatile midfielder who shines the ball into tight spaces and acts as a creative engine for Germany. Capable of being a set-piece stunner, Magull could make a name (more than he already has) for himself at this World Cup.
Alyssa Thompson, United States
The USWNT’s frontline was punched in the gut when Mallory Swanson went down with a torn patellar tendon during a friendly against Ireland in April. Swanson, who is in the best shape of her career heading into the World Cup, joins Catarina Macario, who is rehabbing an ACL tear, on the squad’s growing injury list. Needing to boost the forward pool, coach Vlatko Andonovski tapped Thompson, who at the age of 18 was going to his first World Cup. The striker showed clinical finishing ability and good field vision in his rookie start at Angel City FC. Now, Thompson will carry the US crest alongside veterans like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe in the biggest moment of her young career.