Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí capped off a career-best year by being named women’s footballer of the year at The Best FIFA Awards for 2023.

The 25-year-old was one of three players on the shortlist for the award alongside Spain teammate Jenni Hermoso and Real Madrid forward Linda Caicedo, who was runner-up for the award.

In her speech, Bonmatí said that she was “proud” to be part of a generation of women that are “changing the game and the world.” Both Bonmatí and Hermoso helped Spain to its first Women’s World Cup last August. Since then, the Spanish national team and federation has undergone major changes after then-Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales forcibly kissed Hermoso on the lips.

Rubiales eventually resigned while women’s team coach Jorge Vilda left his post amidst the fallout.

“A couple of weeks ago I was nostalgic for an exceptional and unique year, but starting out this year collecting this award I feel very proud,” Bonmatí said. “I owe this to Barça, to the national team, I owe it to the great season that we’ve played. I’d like to thank my teammates, without all of you I wouldn’t be here. I’d also like to say I am proud to be part of a powerful generation of women who are changing the game and the world.”

Bonmatí also won the Golden Ball award at the World Cup, the Ballon d’Or and was named UEFA Women’s player of the year and Champions League player of the season for her 2022-23 campaign.

Brazilian star Marta also received a lifetime achievement award. During her speech, she urged the audience to “search every day” for ways to improve equality.

“Try to make the world better for everyone. That’s my message to everyone, to every person who has the power [to make changes],” Marta added, before motioning to Hermoso as an example. “The next generations will thank you for that.”

Aitana Bonmatí won the 2023 Ballon d’Or after leading Spain to its first-ever Women’s World Cup title.

The 25-year-old midfielder took home the Golden Ball award at this summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand. She also won the 2022-23 player of the year awards from UEFA and the Champions League, and she won the Liga F, Champions League and Supercopa titles with FC Barcelona.

Her Barcelona teammate, 19-year-old forward Salma Paralluelo, finished third in the Ballon d’Or voting. So it came as no surprise that the Spanish club, which had six of the 30 total nominees, won Women’s Team of the Year.

Australia striker Sam Kerr finished as runner-up to Bonmatí. Sophia Smith, the reigning NWSL MVP and one U.S. player among the nominees, ranked 25th overall.

Bonmati’s win makes three in a row for Spain. Alexia Putellas won the 2021 and 2022 awards but missed most of the 2022-23 season with an ACL tear.

USWNT forward Megan Rapinoe won in 2019, while her teammate Alex Morgan placed third. No other USWNT players have finished in the top three since the Ballon d’Or Féminin first was awarded in 2018.

A number of prominent women’s players were unable to attend Monday’s ceremony in Paris, which was held during the FIFA women’s international window. Georgia Stanway, one of four England players nominated for the Ballon d’Or, called out the scheduling.

“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t be there,” Stanway said. “We spoke about it as a group and said it would be nice in the future if the ceremony wasn’t on a matchday minus one day so we can all enjoy the experience. … If it was planned a little better, then it would be easier for a lot of female footballers to be there.”

Lindsey Horan is the lone U.S. women’s national team player to receive a nomination for the 2023 Best FIFA Women’s Player award.

The 29-year-old co-captain scored two goals for the USWNT at the 2023 World Cup, tied with the team’s lone Ballon d’Or nominee Sophia Smith. No other U.S. player scored a goal at the tournament in Australia and New Zealand. Horan also starts in midfield for French club Lyon in Division 1 Féminine.

Alexia Putellas, who won the 2021 and 2022 Best Player awards, is notably absent from the 2023 list after spending the last year recovering from an ACL tear. Beth Mead and Alex Morgan, the runners-up for the 2022 award, also failed to make the cut. Mead has been out since December 2022 with an ACL tear.

World Cup champion Spain counted four nominees, including Aitana Bonmati, who won the Golden Ball at the World Cup, as well as Jenni Hermoso, Mapi Leon and Salma Paralluelo.

England tied Spain with four nominees, with Rachel Daly leading the way. Alex Greenwood, Lauren James and Keira Walsh also are nominated.

Australia star Sam Kerr received a nod, and she is joined by two fellow Matildas in Caitlin Foord and Mary Fowler. Colombia’s Linda Caicedo, France’s Kadidiatou Diani, Sweden’s Amanda Illestedt and Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa, the World Cup Golden Boot winner, round out the nominees.

Nominees for the Best Coach award include England’s Sarina Wiegman, who won the award last year, Australia’s Tony Guastavsson and Sweden’s Peter Gerhardsson. Two club coaches also received nominations: Chelsea’s Emma Hayes and FC Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez.

England’s Mary Earps is once again nominated for Best Goalkeeper and is looking to win the award in back-to-back years. She’s joined by Mackenzie Arnold (Australia), Ann-Katrin Berger (Germany), Christiane Endler (Chile), Zecira Musovic (Sweden), Catalina Coll (Spain) and Sandra Paños (Spain).

Sophia Smith stands as the lone U.S. women’s national team player among the 30 nominees for the 2023 Ballon d’Or Féminin.

The Portland Thorns star led the NWSL and the USWNT in goals in 2022, with 18 for her club team and 11 for her country. The NWSL MVP also helped lead her team to the 2022 championship. While the 23-year-old is dealing with a post-World Cup knee injury, she again leads the NWSL Golden Boot race with 11 goals.

No other USWNT player made the long list for the prestigious award, presented by “France Football” magazine. And just one other NWSL player — Brazil and Kansas City Current forward Debinha — made the cut.

Among professional leagues, England’s Women’s Super League led the way with 12 players, followed by Spain’s Liga F with 10. Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga followed with four, and then the NWSL and France’s Division 1 Féminine with two. Among club teams, Spain’s FC Barcelona led the way with six.

Spain (6) and England (4) were the only national teams with more than two players on the list.

Spain’s contingent included Aitana Bonmatí, who won the World Cup Golden Ball, and Olga Carmona, who scored the game-winning goal against England in the tournament final. England’s nominees included captain Millie Bright and goalkeeper Mary Earps.

One notable name not on the list: Spain’s Alexia Putellas, who won the trophy in 2021 and 2022. The 29-year-old spent most of the last year recovering from an ACL tear, though she did return for Spain at the World Cup. England’s Beth Mead, who finished in second place, did not make the list either due to her own ACL tear last November.

Sarina Wiegman won the 2022-23 UEFA Coach of the Year award Thursday. In her acceptance speech, the England head coach threw her support behind the Spanish women’s national team.

Spain defeated England, 1-0, to win the 2023 World Cup title. But controversy has overshadowed the victory, as Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales has come under fire for his nonconsensual kiss of star midfielder Jenni Hermoso during the championship celebration.

Wiegman called it “really special” to be voted UEFA Coach of the Year, particularly by her colleagues. She also won the award last year after leading England to its first-ever Euros title. In her speech, she thanked her team and everyone from the English Football Association that supported the Lionesses as they made their World Cup run.

“But it also feels a little different,” she said. “We all know the issues around the Spanish team.”

Since the World Cup, Rubiales has been suspended by FIFA, and regional leaders from the Spanish federation (RFEF) have called for his resignation. Spain’s World Cup players have refused to return to the national team without a change in leadership.

With Rubiales’ refusal to resign, the conflict has dragged on, pulling attention from the players’ accomplishments and highlighting the ways in which society – and women’s sports – still must improve.

“It really hurts me, as a coach, as a mother of two daughters, as a wife and as a human being,” Wiegman said. “It shows the game has grown so much, but there’s also still a long way to go in women’s football and in society. And I would like to dedicate this award to the Spanish team. The team that played in the World Cup such great football that everyone enjoys.

“This team deserves to be celebrated and deserves to be listened to. And I’m going to give them, again, a big applause.”

Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí, who won the Golden Ball award for the World Cup, took home the award as the 2022-23 UEFA Player of the Year. She won the World Cup with Spain and the Champions League title with FC Barcelona.

Jenni Hermoso and Spain’s entire World Cup-winning team, plus 33 additional players, are refusing to return to the national team without a leadership change.

In a letter released Friday, the players came together to ask for “real changes, both sporting and structural,” to the national team, including the removal of the “current leaders.” Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish national federation (RFEF), refused to resign earlier in the day despite the growing backlash against him after his unsolicited kiss of  Hermoso at the World Cup final.

In a defiant speech delivered Friday, Rubiales promised to “fight to the end” rather than step down from his post. He also claimed his kiss of Hermoso was “consensual,” which Hermoso disputed in the letter.

“I want to clarify that at no time did I consent to the kiss he gave me and in no case did I seek to lift the president,” she said. “I do not tolerate my word being questioned, much less that words are invented that I have not said.”

Her final remark refers to the statement issued in her name by the Spanish federation in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup final on Aug. 20, which referred to the kiss as a “mutual gesture.”

Hermoso’s World Cup teammates back her up in the letter. So do “Las 15,” the group of 15 players who protested the national federation who protested against the national team environment ahead of the tournament.

The players “want to express their firm and resounding condemnation of behaviors that have violated the dignity of women,” they say in the letter.

Among those who signed the letter are World Cup stars Alexia Putellas, Irene Paredes, Aitana Bonmatí, as well as “Las 15” members Patri Guijarro, Mapi León and Clàudia Pina, all of whom also voiced their support of Hermoso on social media.

“From our union, we want to emphasize that no woman should feel the need to respond to the forceful images that the whole world has seen and of course, they should not be involved in nonconsensual attitudes,” the players continued.

The players also “expect forceful answers from the public powers so that the actions such as those contained do not go unpunished.” They finish their letter by asking for “real changes” to the national team so the program can continue to grow.

Rubiales is expected to be suspended as the Spanish government investigates the incident. FIFA, meanwhile, opened up an investigation of its own on Thursday.

“It fills us with sadness,” the players said in their letter, “that such an unacceptable event is managing to tarnish the greatest sporting success of Spanish women’s football.”

Spanish players came out in force in support of teammate Jenni Hermoso after national federation president Luis Rubiales refused to resign Friday in a defiant speech.

Rubiales has come under fire for his unsolicited kiss of Hermoso during Spain’s World Cup celebration on Aug. 20. While reports indicated he would resign, instead he doubled down, saying he would “fight to the end.” The Spanish government later started the legal proceedings necessary to suspend Rubiales.

After the speech, Hermoso’s World Cup teammates spoke out in condemnation of Rubiales and in solidarity with Hermoso. So did prominent members of “Las 15,” the group of Spanish players who protested against the national team environment ahead of the tournament.

Two-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas called Rubiales’ refusal to step down from his post “unacceptable.”

“This is unacceptable. It’s over,” Alexia Putellas wrote in Spanish. “With you partner @Jennihermoso.”

Spain’s Irene Paredes also expressed her support for Hermoso, writing in Spanish: “Everyone saw what happened. The victim is you. I’m with you friend.”

Aitana Bonmatí, who won the tournament’s Golden Ball, wrote in Spanish: “There are limits that cannot be crossed and we cannot tolerate this. We are with you mate.”

Olga Carmona, who scored the game-winning goal, chimed in as well, posting a photo of herself and Hermoso embracing each other after the World Cup win.

Patri Guijarro, Mapi León and Clàudia Pina, all of whom were among “Las 15” and made themselves unavailable for World Cup selection, referenced the longstanding dispute between the players and the national federation.

“It’s over. With you @Jennihermoso,” Guijarro wrote in Spanish. “Unfortunate to reach this point to believe that the complaints from months ago were real.”

León shared similar sentiments, writing in Spanish: “It has not been necessary to spend a lot of time to see that what was demanded a few months ago was not a simple tantrum. The images speak for themselves, and I don’t think there is much more to add. It is unacceptable. For all the women, with you @Jennihermoso.”

So did Pina, who wrote in Spanish: “It is unfortunate that this situation had to come to pass and that many of us have had to give up our dreams to be heard.”

In Rubiales’ speech Friday, he reiterated that his kiss of Hermoso was “consensual,” but the 33-year-old midfielder has refuted that point. She issued a statement Wednesday in conjunction with the Spanish players’ union that said such actions “should never go unpunished.”

On the men’s side, several former Spain internationals criticized Rubiales as well. David de Gea noted that his “ears are bleeding,” while Iker Casillas called the speech a “total embarrassment.”

Real Betis player Borja Iglesias said that while wearing the Spanish national team jersey is “one of the greatest things that has happened to me in my career,” he would not wear it again until “things change and this type of act does not go unpunished.”

FIFPRO, the international players’ union, also issued a statement calling for “immediate disciplinary action” against Rubiales. FIFA opened an investigation against Rubiales on Thursday, and FIFPRO said it also has appealed to UEFA to request disciplinary proceedings.

“Any lack of action by authorities in addressing the conduct of Mr. Rubiales would send an entirely unacceptable and damaging message to the football industry and wider society,” the statement read.

With the 2023 World Cup in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to take a look back at the breakout stars of the tournament. Spain had a number of players step up on their way to the World Cup title.

It’s hard to argue with a pick from the champions, but in a tournament where the rising parity of the global women’s game was on full display, many players showcased why they are the best in the world. Some of those highest performers represented a changing of the guard, as the next generation of soccer players introduced themselves to the public.

Let’s take a look at who is deserving of the highest individual prize, and who else was in the running.

Our pick for Golden Ball

Aitana Bonmatí, Spain

Bonmatí was the main playmaker on the championship team, earning the official Golden Ball award after the World Cup final. She also earns our top award both for scoring and facilitating Spain’s excellent ball movement as they put together their most complete performances ever at the senior level.

Spain has been known to falter in big moments and overly rely on their passing abilities without being dangerous in front of goal. Bonmatí refused to let that reputation hold them down, dismantling Switzerland in the Round of 16 before handling the Netherlands and Sweden on their way to defeating England in the final.

Honorable mentions

Linda Caicedo, Colombia

The 2023 World Cup served as the world’s introduction to one of the most exciting young talents in South American soccer as Linda Caicedo took the group stage by storm. Caicedo was clearly the focal point of Colombia’s attack, but her individual quality made her impossible to stop.

The 18-year-old put the world on notice in Colombia’s upset of Germany in the group stage, scoring one of the best goals of the tournament to put her team ahead in the first half. She also showcased a relentless willingness to defend from an advanced position, buying into her team’s gritty ethos that helped Colombia advance to the quarterfinals.

Millie Bright, England

It’s a testament to England’s team mentality that they came very close to their first World Cup title without one single player taking the team on their back. Midfielder Keira Walsh battled injury and had a rough World Cup final, while Lauren James’ two-game suspension for a red card offense in the Round of 16 halted her momentum from the knockout rounds.

But the Lionesses’ defense was excellent, and the team’s center-backs handled a mid-tourney formation change with ease. Jess Parker, Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood all deserve credit, but Bright as captain anchored the team’s defense and sent important long-ball passes forward to spring the England attack, most notably against Australia in the team’s semifinal win.

Teresa Abelleira, Spain

The only mark against Bonmatí’s right to the Golden Ball is that she might have been outplayed by her teammate in Spain’s midfield. Teresa Abelleira dominated through possession, never allowing opponents to grab momentum by taking control of the tempo of the match. Her finest hour may have come in the World Cup final, as Spain slowly squeezed the life out of England after taking a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute.

Spain’s ability to hold and progress the ball has become such a key part of their identity that one might begin to take it for granted, but combined with clinical finishing at the right times, it became their superpower. Abelleira’s performance in the World Cup’s biggest moments set the foundation for the team’s success.

Hinata Miyazawa, Japan

The Japan forward took home the Golden Boot Award for most goals scored in the tournament, with five goals and one assist despite Japan’s quarterfinal exit. Miyazawa represented the final piece of Japan’s puzzle as the Nadeshiko slashed through defenses with ease, most notably in their 4-0 group stage takedown of eventual champions Spain.

The one criticism of Japan’s play going into the World Cup was a lack of clinical finishing. But the team’s free-flowing, counter-attacking style of soccer was some of the most enjoyable to watch throughout the tournament, and Miyazawa led the way.

Salma Paralluelo, Spain

Named the World Cup’s Young Player of the Tournament, 19-year-old Salma Paralluelo was also crucial in Spain’s run to the World Cup final. Scoring off the bench in both the quarterfinal and semifinal, Paralluelo provided width and blazing pace to exploit gaps behind opponents’ defenses.

Paralluelo went on to start the World Cup final and cause so many issues for England’s wingbacks that the Lionesses made a formation change at halftime, sacrificing their dynamism in the attack. With a bright future ahead of her, Paralluelo represents the best of Spain’s developmental pipeline.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Now that the 2023 World Cup has crowned a first-time champion in Spain, many will remember the tournament for team accomplishments. But over the course of the past month, individuals rose to the occasion to keep their teams alive, showcasing their talents on the biggest international stage.

This Best XI will favor teams that did particularly well in the knockout rounds, but there are also arguments to be made for selecting stars of the group stage at almost every position.

So, let’s take a look at which players stood out throughout the World Cup with our Best XI.

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Zećira Mušović's heroics helped Sweden eliminate the USWNT in the Round of 16. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Goalkeeper

Zećira Mušović (Sweden)

Sweden’s run to third place was a culmination of a number of factors, including the team’s ability to command space on set pieces and in defensive transition. But they also benefited greatly from the stellar play of goalkeeper Zećira Mušović, who kept Sweden in their Round of 16 matchup against the USWNT and ultimately helped knock out the 2019 World Champions in a penalty shootout.

Overall, the World Cup was an incredible display of gains made in goalkeeping in the women’s game. Deserved honorable mentions go out to Jamaica’s Rebecca Spencer, Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie and England’s Mary Earps, the 2023 Golden Glove winner. Stout performances between the posts kept a number of teams in games during crucial stretches of the knockout rounds (not to mention the penalty shootout heroics of the USWNT’s Alyssa Naeher and Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold). The position is in good hands worldwide.

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Michelle Alozie and Nigeria nearly knocked England out of the World Cup. (Sajad Imanian/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Defenders

Amanda Ilestedt (Sweden), Allyson Swaby (Jamaica), Millie Bright (England), Michelle Alozie (Nigeria)

The 2023 World Cup was marked by three-back systems, making a four-back Best XI defensive formation somewhat difficult to choose in an attempt to honor four of the best at the position. Any of England’s center-backs could have taken honors here, or members of Japan’s excellent bend-but-don’t-break defense. The three-back renaissance also meant that many traditional fullbacks moved into wingback positions and essentially functioned as midfield additions in the attack. Spain’s Olga Carmona also deserves a mention, as the hero of the World Cup final with her strike from an advanced position.

Amanda Ilestedt fits that description of creating attack from defense perfectly. The Swedish defender carried both defensive and attacking responsibilities, contending for the Golden Boot award as the focal-point of many of Sweden’s set pieces. Allyson Swaby anchored a Jamaica side that reached the knockout rounds for the first time thanks to their staunch defense, which held both France and Brazil scoreless. Millie Bright captained England to a final appearance as the core of their three-back defense, and Michelle Alozie contributed greatly to the Nigeria defense that almost knocked the Lionesses out of the tournament in the Round of 16. Another defender deserving of an honorable mention is the USWNT’s Naomi Girma, who played every minute as part of a defense that gave up just two shots on goal in four games.

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Spain's Aitana Bonmatí earned World Cup Golden Ball honors after capturing the title. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Midfielders

Aitana Bonmatí (Spain), Teresa Abelleira (Spain), Hayley Raso (Australia)

Spain’s midfield trio could take up this entire position, and it would be difficult to argue against them. Aitana Bonmatí earned FIFA’s official Golden Ball award for her work controlling possession and contributing to Spain’s World Cup-winning attack. She dominated Spain’s Round of 16 clash with Switzerland, scoring two goals, and forced opposing defenses into poor decisions as the knockout rounds became increasingly competitive. Bonmatí was matched in quality by teammate Teresa Abelleira, who was the motor behind Spain’s ball possession and passing. Spain’s midfield excellence was never more apparent than in the tournament final, where they held onto the ball and a 1-0 lead for much of the match to stave off England.

Hayley Raso, a wide player who spends as much time in the attack as she does sitting in midfield spaces, deserves honors as a key part of Australia’s 4-4-2 formation. The Matildas finished in fourth, the co-host’s best-ever result at a World Cup, not least because of Raso’s endless work rate on the wings in tandem with Caitlin Foord on the opposite flank, especially in the absence of forward Sam Kerr for much of the tournament.

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Hinata Miyazawa finished as the World Cup leading scorer despite Japan's quarterfinal exit. (Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Forwards

Salma Paralluelo (Spain), Linda Caicedo (Colombia), Hinata Miyazawa (Japan)

Picking only three forwards for this list is almost impossible. Talent at the forward position has possibly never been deeper, with young stars rising to take over for the established legends of the game. Many of those players are known for exploiting wide spaces, and few traditional No. 9s stood out in the grand scheme of the tournament (Germany’s Alexandra Popp and France’s Kadidiatou Diani, who earned the Silver and Bronze Boot Awards, are perhaps the exceptions).

Diani and Popp are strong candidates for a Best XI, as is England’s Lauren Hemp, but the particularly stellar play of other wide forwards adds credence to leaning into the trend. Salma Paralluelo was a key spark in Spain’s run to the title, scoring in the quarterfinal and semifinal before earning a start in the final. Linda Caicedo was one of the best individual talents in the entire tournament, spurring Colombia to a quarterfinal finish. And Hinata Miyazawa’s Golden Boot-winning tally (five goals) held firm despite Japan’s exit in the quarterfinals. As the most clinical finisher working in a high-risk, high-reward system, Miyazawa almost helped take the Nadeshiko all the way.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Aitana Bonmatí took home the Golden Ball award Sunday after Spain won their first-ever Women’s World Cup title.

Together, the individual and team trophies are the biggest she has won in her career. But she also believes La Roja deserved the championship.

“We deserve it. We deserve it,” the 25-year-old midfielder said after the match. “Everyone knew the goal at the beginning of the preparation of the tournament. Everyone is competitive. Everyone has a strong mentality to win. We have been working a lot of years for this moment and we have it. We have the trophy.”

Spain put on a clinic both offensively and defensively in an all-around performance to claim the 1-0 win against England. Former U.S. women’s national team star Carli Lloyd called it the “most complete, beautiful team performance I have ever seen in a World Cup final” — and that would include the USWNT’s victories in 2015 and 2019.

England goalkeeper Mary Earps took home the tournament’s Golden Glove for the best goalkeeper. Lloyd noted that both Earps and Bonmatí being recognized was “well deserved.”

Spain’s Salma Paralluelo was named Young Player of the Tournament after scoring in the quarterfinal and again in the semifinal. Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa took home the Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the tournament with five.