Ahead of the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday between England and Spain, AFP Sport picks its five best players of the tournament:
Aitana Bonmati (Spain)
With Alexia Putellas struggling to recover full fitness after a serious knee injury, Spain needed others to step forward if they were to emerge as genuine contenders to win the World Cup.
Bonmati, her teammate at Barcelona, did exactly that.
The 25-year-old scored a superb goal against Costa Rica and produced two more exceptional finishes in the 5-1 demolition of Switzerland, a game in which she also provided two assists in a masterful performance from midfield.
Bonmati was one of three players who returned to the Spain fold for the World Cup after being among the 15 rebels who announced last September they did not want to be considered for selection.
Her performances have been so good that she must now have a serious chance of succeeding Putellas and winning this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Alex Greenwood (England)
European champions England have not always sparkled but they reached Sunday’s final thanks in part to their sturdy defence.
The 29-year-old Manchester City defender Greenwood has played a key part in keeping the Lionesses watertight while also contributing to their passing game out of defence.
England kept cleansheets with 1-0 wins in the group phase over Haiti and Denmark, and just about kept out Nigeria over 120 minutes to salvage a 0-0 draw and squeeze into the quarter-finals 4-2 on penalties.
Something of an unsung hero, the centre-back Greenwood proved as reliable in the shootout as she has been in defence, holding her nerve to score from the spot against Nigeria.
Not just solid and unflappable when defending, Greenwood’s passing ability, especially in tight spaces, has also been eye-catching. Probably the best centre-half at the tournament.
Linda Caicedo (Colombia)
The 18-year-old Real Madrid attacker brought her rare talents to a global audience for the first time.
She scored on her World Cup debut against South Korea, albeit with a helping hand from a goalkeeping howler, and netted again in a famous 2-1 win over Germany.
It was one of the goals of the tournament. Caicedo received the ball in the German box, beat two players and bent the ball into the opposite top corner.
The teenager, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 15 but made a full recovery, was though at the centre of another health concern.
She went down in training clutching her chest and in the Germany win also seemed to struggle with her breathing. Medical tests gave her a clean bill of health.
Hinata Miyazawa (Japan)
Japan bowed out 2-1 to Sweden in the quarter-finals but there is every chance that Miyazawa will win the golden boot for top scorer at the tournament.
The 23-year-old tops the charts with five goals, two of them coming in a 4-0 thumping of Spain in the group phase.
The attacking midfielder, who plays her football in Japan’s domestic league, also got an assist in that game.
What is even more impressive is that Miyazawa had never been prolific in front of goal prior to this for club or country.
But coach Futoshi Ikeda found a way to get the best out of her, Miyazawa often running at pace from deep on the counter-attack, then keeping her head to do the rest in front of goal.
Amanda Ilestedt (Sweden)
The 30-year-old defender, who signed for Arsenal just before the tournament from Paris Saint-Germain, became a surprise contender to win the golden boot as she scored three times in Sweden’s first two games at the World Cup and then netted a fourth goal in the 2-1 win over Japan in the quarter-finals.
Ilestedt was a constant threat in opposition boxes at set-pieces as Sweden made it to a third semi-final in the last four World Cups. She also formed a formidable centre-back partnership with Magdalena Eriksson as Sweden went more than seven hours without conceding before Japan scored against them.
But it was her goal-scoring prowess that really made a mark and at one point prompted a reporter to ask if she had considered asking her coach if she could play up front.
“I already did,” she joked before insisting she was happier as a centre-half.
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