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.

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


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.

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


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.

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


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.

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


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.

England’s Lauren James has received a two-game ban for the red card she earned during the Lionesses’ World Cup game against Nigeria.

The 21-year-old was sent off for stepping on the back of Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie during the final minutes of the Round of 16 match, which England won on penalties. The red card came with an automatic one-game ban – plus the possibility of additional games being added.

On Thursday, FIFA increased the ban to two games, meaning James will miss the World Cup semifinals if England wins its quarterfinal game. The Lionesses are set to face Colombia at 6:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

James has been electric for England, leading the team with three goals and assisting on three more.

Following the incident, James apologized to Alozie on social media. Her teammates and coach also issued their support for the young forward, with England manager Sarina Wiegman chalking the moment up to “inexperience.”

“She is inexperienced on this stage and in a split-second lost her emotions. It isn’t something she did on purpose,” she said. “She apologized and felt really bad. She would never want to hurt someone. She is the sweetest person I know.”

And now the team is focused on moving forward without their star.

“We’re not defined by one player,” forward Beth England said before FIFA announced its decision. “I think it’s important that everyone’s there for her, and that we are there for her as a team and as a coaching staff. But ultimately, whatever decision they make, we have to unfortunately accept that and just get on with the game. There’s bigger things than just focusing on one player right now.”

England’s Lauren James will miss her team’s World Cup quarterfinal – and possibly the rest of the tournament – after receiving a red card in Monday’s Round of 16 match.

The 21-year-old forward appeared to step on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in the game’s 84th minute as Alozie was lying on the ground. The Lionesses still managed to secure their spot in the quarterfinals on penalties after the game finished 0-0 following regulation and extra time. But England will have to face Colombia without one of its best players.

And James could miss more than one match, as FIFA reserves the right to extend the ban. In the event of a red card, “further sanctions may be imposed by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee,” per the World Cup rules.

On Tuesday, Alozie called for James’ critics to “rest,” though she did note the play was deserving of a red card.

“We are playing on the world’s stage,” she wrote. “This game is one of passion, insurmountable emotions, and moments. All respect for Lauren James.”

James apologized in a reply to Alozie’s social media post.

“All my love and respect to you. I am sorry for what happened,” James wrote. “Also, for our England fans and my team-mates, playing with and for you is my greatest honour and I promise to learn from my experience.”

England’s Football Association issued its own statement after the incident, saying that James is “really sorry for her actions which led to the red card and is full of remorse.”

“It is wholly out of character for her,” the FA said in its statement, while also noting that it will be putting forward representation to FIFA on her behalf. FIFA’s decision on James’ ban could come after England’s quarterfinal match on Saturday.

“We fully respect FIFA’s disciplinary process and will not be making any further comment until after any decision has been made,” the statement concluded.

England captain Millie Bright also expressed her support for James after Monday’s match.

“It’s football. Listen, I have had red cards. Everyone goes through it as a player, everyone goes through it on the world stage,” Bright said. “But for me, it’s not a situation that needs too much light shining on it.

“It’s happened. It’s in the past. We are through. All that matters is we come together as a group, we have each others’ backs, and it is just another challenge in football that the player has to face. But we have got her back completely and we will get ready for the next game.”

England’s Rachel Daly said after the match that James was “disappointed” and “upset.”

“She’s a young player people forget that, they put a lot of pressure on her on the outside, media, everyone puts a lot of pressure on the kid, she’s a young girl, she’s got a lot to learn and she knows that,” Daly said.

“But ultimately it’s a team game, she’s been excellent for us and course, [we’ll] put an arm round her, help her through it and she’ll learn from it. She’s a fantastic player with a bright future ahead of her.”

Following the game, Arsenal coach Jonas Eidevall told BBC Sport that he thought James’ frustration in the match had boiled over, and that she should have been taken off sooner by England manager Sarina Wiegman.

“It’s decision fatigue. The two games before this probably took their toll for energy, we could see in the game that she was starting to take some bad decisions on and off the ball,” he said. “I think the lack of subs in the second half surprised me here form England, because I think the momentum was not going their way. England are quite lucky to actually be here now for extra-time and they could have been more proactive with the subs. Now they need to find a strategy with 10 players.”

Former England striker Ellen White agreed that James had grown frustrated. But she also agreed with the red card call.

“It’s disappointing. She was frustrated throughout the game, she wasn’t really in the game as much as she would have liked,” she said. “But she’s clearly stood on the Nigeria player. There was just no need for it, was there? Really disappointing.”

Wiegman addressed James’ red card after the match.

“It was a moment that was in a split-second,” she said. “It was later in the game so players get a little tired. She is inexperienced on this stage and in a split-second lost her emotions. She would never want to hurt someone, she is the sweetest person I know.”

“Things happen, you can’t change it,” she continued. “It’s a huge lesson for her to learn but isn’t something she did on purpose.”