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WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Oshoala, four other superstars to watch

THE 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will kick off on Thursday, with Australia and New Zealand sharing co-hosting duties.

Nigeria’s Super Falcons and 31 other teams from across the globe will be taking part in the biggest edition of the tournament in history, and scores of top players will be involved.

Naija Times runs the rule over six players likely to have a huge impact in their teams’ fortunes at the tournament…

The Barcelona striker is not just Nigeria’s biggest star but also the most recognisable women’s football player from Africa.

Oshoala, 28, has been a success story at club level with Barcelona, having won multiple La Liga Femeni and UEFA Women’s Champions League titles, and at continental level with three Women’s Africa Cup of Nations trophies.

The speedy, skillful forward has also been named African Women’s Footballer of the Year five times, but has been relatively underwhelming at World Cup level.

Having hopefully shaken off her injury problems, which have dogged her these past two years, this is the right time for Oshoala to show that she can perform at an elite level on the biggest stage.

Oshoala scored 26 goals in 37 appearances as Barcelona claimed the domestic league and Champions League double again last season and she will be eager to add to her two goals in six World Cup appearances (from the 2015 and 2019 editions) as the Super Falcons seek to survive a tough group with co-hosts Australia, Olympic champions Canada and newcomers Ireland.

The Chelsea striker will go head-to-head with Oshoala and the Super Falcons in Group B and she is the major threat in the Matildas squad.

The Aussies have never won the competition but believe hosting it presents them with a golden opportunity to make history.

To realise that tall dream, they will need their best player to fire on all cylinders and inspire her teammates.

That player is 29-year-old captain Kerr, who is her country’s all-time leading scorer with 63 goals from 120 appearances.

Kerr is a player for the big occasion and is coming to the World Cup in fine form after a brilliant season with Chelsea.

She scored five goals at the 2019 World Cup in France and netted 29 times in 38 games for English champions Chelsea last season.

Despite battling with serious injuries in the last one year or so, the 29-year-old Barcelona midfielder is still considered the Lionel Messi of women’s football.

Putellas won the Women’s Ballon d’Or in each of the last two years and retained her crown as 2022 The Best FIFA Women’s Player in February, even after missing half of the year with a serious knee injury.

She is the first woman to reach 100 caps for her country and without her industry, goals and creativity, Spain struggled at the 2022 European Championship, where they lost to eventual champions England in the quarter-finals.

Spain will be banking on her to create and score the goals that could propel them beyond the round of 16, which they reached at the 2019 edition, their second participation of the tournament.

Undoubtedly the star of the Banyana Banyana squad, Kgatlana is arguably behind only Asisat Oshoala in terms of talent and popularity in Africa.

The South Africa captain was the driving force behind their progress to the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final in Ghana 2018, scoring five goals and being named the player of the tournament despite their loss to Nigeria.

The 27-year-old Sporting Louisville of the United States of America forward was also voted African Women’s Footballer of the Year for 2018 and scored her country’s only goal at their first Women’s World Cup in France four years ago.

Kgatlana missed the knockout rounds of the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations as South Africa claimed their first crown but she is back fully fit now and raring to lead the rapidly improving side in the quest for a first-ever World Cup victory.

She has scored 22 goals in 22 Banyana Banyana appearances and her country will be banking on her to help put them on the world map.

The Barcelona star became the world’s most expensive women’s football player after her €470,000 move from Manchester City last September.

The 26-year-old has since justified the fee, inspiring Barcelona to the treble of the Spanish league, Supercopa and the UEFA Champions League last season.

With England’s hopes of winning the World Cup for the first time hamstrung by several injuries, Walsh is the leader the squad will be looking up to for inspiration.

She is comfortable as both a holding midfielder and further upfield in a creative role, and was key to England’s 2022 European Championships triumph on home soil, earning the player of the match honour in the final against Germany.

With 59 England caps since 2017, Walsh will be hoping to steer the Lionesses to global success Down Under.

PHOTO (from left): Asisat Oshoala, Sam Kerr, Alexia Putellas, Thembi Kgatlana and Keira Walsh.

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