Plenty of players have electrified the pitch throughout the World Cup, from Colombia’s Linda Caicedo to Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala to the USWNT’s own Naomi Girma.
Yet with the World Cup semifinals arriving Tuesday, Just Women’s Sports is taking this moment to highlight four of the best from the the four remaining teams: Australia, England, Spain and Sweden. These players are worth watching as we wait to see who will play for the title.
Raso and Caitlin Foord have lessened the sting from the absence of Matildas star Sam Kerr in the group stage and her limited playing time in the knockout rounds. Raso in particular has been a big part of that, scoring a team-leading three goals – including one against Denmark to help push the team to the quarterfinals.
The World Cup run for the home team also stands as an amazing journey for Raso, who battled back from a broken back five years ago to lead the Matildas to Wednesday’s semifinal against England.
Despite battling injuries and a red card, England has pulled through to the semifinals for a second consecutive World Cup. But the Lionesses will be without breakout star Lauren James due to her red card suspension.
Instead, they’ll need to rely on other stars, including Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo, both of whom who showed up on the scoresheet in the 2-1 quarterfinal win against Colombia. Russo is England’s second-highest scorer alongside Hemp, and she scored the game-winner against Colombia to seal her team’s spot in the semifinals. She will be needed once more against Australia. But she’s proved herself in big moments before, having scored a viral goal against Sweden in the Euros last summer. Now she’s showing up at the World Cup and is a vital piece in England’s run to a possible appearance in the championship match.
Amanda Illestedt is the top remaining scorer in the Golden Boot race with four goals, although Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa exited the tournament with five. For Ilestedt, who is playing as a central defender, to sit in the best position among the semifinalists has surprised even her own teammates.
“I don’t think so many of us were expecting her to be top scorer in our team,” forward Fridolina Rolfö said. “But she’s an amazing player, especially with her head, and I am so happy for her.”
Defensively, Ilestedt has helped Sweden to three shutouts and held opponents to just two goals scored in competition.
While Alba Ferrer, Aitana Bonmati and Jennifer Hermoso have all made their mark on this tournament with three goals apiece, it’s Salma Paralluelo who has made a bit of a name for herself for Spain. She’s scored just one goal this tournament, but it’s arguably the biggest of her career as the game-winner in the team’s quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. She came off the bench to create one of the biggest moments of the quarterfinals.
“We have succeeded. We have fought until the end. We have believed,” Paralluelo said after the match. “It was a unique moment. Great euphoria to have lived through that.”
Those who know soccer, though, should not be surprised at her rise. She helped Spain’s U-20 team lift the trophy at the U-20 World Cup in 2022, scoring two goals in the final to help the team to the trophy for the first time.