Chelsea manager Emma Hayes is upset with the officiating in her club’s 2-2 draw against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Controversial decisions “robbed” the English club from a win in its first match of the Champions League group stage, Hayes said. In the second half, two key decisions went against the Blues, with a questionable penalty awarded to Madrid in the 78th minute and a would-be last-minute winner for Chelsea ruled offside.

“I think we’ve been robbed of what should have been a 3-1 game,” said Hayes, who has been named head coach of the U.S. women’s national team.

Video assistant referee (VAR) review was not available. After the match, UEFA released a statement on VAR is being rolled out gradually across its competitions, though it did not provide any timeline for when it might come to the Women’s Champions League group stage.

“UEFA already plans to implement VAR at the UEFA Women’s Nations League finals next year and will continuously evaluate the possibility to implement VAR in competitions or stages of competitions where it hasn’t been so far,” the statement read.

In the fifth and final minute of stoppage time of Wednesday’s draw, Chelsea scored on a close-range goal from Niamh Charles. But the flag was raised for offside, to the confusion of coaches and players alike. While Kerr was in an offside position, it was not in a way that impacted play, Hayes said.

“It’s embarrassing,” Hayes said. “I had to check because Niamh’s onside, but the reason the goal was ruled offside was because Sam [Kerr] was interfering with the goalkeeper.

“[Kerr is] about seven yards away from the goalkeeper, she’s nowhere near her, so I cannot understand the decision whatsoever.”

Following the draw, other players called out the lack of VAR, which isn’t set to be used in Champions League competition until the knockout rounds.

“I think it has to be used in the Champions League from minute one when the group stage starts,” Barcelona winger Caroline Graham Hansen said Thursday. “Every year we are doing things to improve [the game], but it’s clear that it should be utilised in the group phase as well as the knockouts.

“Like [this week], the games are intense, there are a lot of decisive situations and, at the end of the day, I think everyone just wants games to end with the result as it should end. If we can have help, that helps.”

Her teammate Salma Paralluelo echoed the calls for VAR.

“At the end of the day, VAR is a tool that makes things as fair as possible on the pitch because of the support it provides,” Paralluelo said. “Not having it can lead to wrong decisions. We need it both in the league and in the Champions League [group phase]. I think it is super necessary.”

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.”

Angel Reese has been named to Time Magazine’s 100 Next list for 2023.

A standout for LSU basketball, she helped lead the Tigers to their first national title earlier this year while setting a record for double-doubles in a single season. And her star has continued to rise as she elevates her game and her profile.

WNBA star Candace Parker, who wrote Reese’s blurb for Time Magazine, noted that Reese brings “work, effort and energy,” all of which are required to excel in their game.

“She’s ripping the sport open and tearing back the layers,” Parker writes. “Her tenacity and confidence on the court make her such an exciting player to watch—it’s incredible to see her stand in her power and make such a big impact on women’s basketball, especially this early in her career.”

There is only “one time” that Parker doesn’t root for Reese, and it’s when LSU plays her own alma mater, the University of Tennessee.

The 100 Next list, which recognizes up-and-comers in industries across the world, also features a pair of World Cup stars in Spain forward Salma Paralluelo and USWNT and Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith. Stanford golf phenom-turned-LPGA pro Rose Zhang also made the list.

Smith touched on her missed penalty kick at the World Cup in her blurb. The shot helped seal the USWNT’s penalty shootout loss to Sweden in the Round of 16.

“You don’t let those moments completely define who you are,” she said. “When something doesn’t go your way, you can let it take you down, or you learn and grow from that moment and be better from it. I’m choosing that route.”

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.

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.

Spain’s ball movement during its World Cup title win caught the eye of U.S. women’s national team great Julie Foudy.

One user on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, lamented during the match that the U.S. used to move the ball like Spain. Foudy responded, saying the comment was “very kind” but incorrect.

“We have never moved the ball like Spain does,” she wrote. “Their grace on the ball is gorgeous to watch.”

Spain won the World Cup final, 1-0, over England on Aug. 20, thanks to a first-half goal from Olga Carmona. La Roja spent much of the rest of the match knocking on the door of another goal, with 57% possession and 81% passing accuracy on 486 total passes.

And when the Lionesses came knocking, Spain shut them down to hold on for the win.

With the victory, Spain claimed its first senior World Cup win, after having won the most recent Under-20 World Cup title and the two most recent Under-17 World Cup titles. Emerging Spanish talent Salma Paralluelo played a role in both the 2022 U-20 and the 2018 U-17 titles, as well as the 2023 senior title.

“Congrats to Spain, getting that FIRST WORLD CUP win at senior level,” Foudy said in a later post. “They’ve completely dominated the youth level for (the) last five years. So much success at U-17 and U-20 level. And then, to do it without all of their top players here. Their domination is just getting started. So impressive.”

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.

The Spain women’s national team played in its first Women’s World Cup in 2015. Eight years later, La Roja have won their first title.

Olga Carmona provided the lone goal of the game for either team in the 29th minute. The Real Madrid defender sent a low strike across the goalmouth and into the far corner past England goalkeeper Mary Earps. While Earps made several spectacular saves from that point to keep the Lionesses within striking distance, they never found the equalizer.

Spain played the entire tournament under the shadow of a dispute between players and the national federation. In September 2022, 15 players sent a letter to the Spanish federation calling out issues within the program, including with the coaching staff; just three of those players were selected to coach Jorge Vilda’s World Cup roster.

FINAL: Spain 1, England 0

La Roja win their first World Cup title and their first major international trophy, avenging their loss to England in the quarterfinal round of the 2022 Euros.

90′: Alexia Putellas enters as substitute for Spain

The two-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner comes in from the bench for extra time, replacing Mariona Caldentey.

76′: England’s Lauren James comes close to equalizer

Spain goalkeeper Cata Coll leapt to get a hand on James’ shot from the left side, tipping the ball up and over the crossbar.

69′: England’s Mary Earps stops penalty kick

Spain received a penalty kick courtesy of a handball by England midfielder Keira Walsh, but Earps wrapped up Jenni Hermoso’s shot.

“I do my own research and I’m not going to reveal it here,” Earps told The Athletic earlier in the tournament. “It is a free shot from 12 yards so the striker should score every single time. My job is to make it as difficult as possible and give myself the best chance to save it. We definitely prepared for penalties.”

46′: England brings in Lauren James as substitute

England manager Sarina Wiegman brings on fresh legs, sending in James and Chloe Kelly in place of Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly. Spain sticks with its first-half lineup.

HALF: Spain 1, England 0

Spain dominated the first 45 minutes, controlling possession for 64% of the first half. While Hemp managed several chances for the Lionesses, La Roja used their speed and pinpoint passing to get behind the defense.

England’s come-from-behind win against Colombia in the quarterfinal round stands as the only come-from-behind win of the knockout stage. Can the Lionesses repeat that performance in the championship match?

29′: Spain takes 1-0 lead courtesy of Olga Carmona

Carmona scored the game-winner against Sweden in the semifinal, and she struck first in the World Cup final, giving her team a first-half lead over England.

The 23-year-old forward lifted her jersey in celebration to show a message penned in marker on her Adidas undershirt: “MERCHI,” a tribute to a good friend’s mother who recently passed away.

17′: Spain nearly scores on counterattack

A breakout start for La Roja at the 2023 World Cup, Salma Paralluelo had a look at the goal, but her shot missed wide right. Alba Redondo followed with a shot of her own, but England goalkeeper Mary Earps made the stop.

16′: England’s Lauren Hemp hits crossbar

The 23-year-old forward created another chance for the Lionesses, but the ball bounced off the crossbar.

5′: England’s Lauren Hemp notches first shot

Lauren Hemp, who has three goals in the tournament, sent the first shot of the match toward Spain goalkeeper Cata Coll, but Coll handled it easily.

Starting XI: Spain’s Alexia Putellas and England’s Lauren James start on bench

  • Spain
    • Goalkeeper: Cata Coll
    • Defenders: Olga Carmona, Laia Codina, Irene Paredes, Ona Batlle
    • Midfielders: Jenni Hermoso, Teresa Abelleira, Aitana Bonmatí
    • Forwards: Mariona Caldentey, Salma Paralluelo, Alba Redondo
  • England
    • Goalkeeper: Mary Earps
    • Defenders: Alex Greenwood, Millie Bright, Jessica Carter
    • Midfielders: Rachel Daly, Keira Walsh, Ella Toone, Georgia Stanway, Lucy Bronze
    • Forwards: Lauren Hemp, Alessia Russo

Each team faced one big question heading into the World Cup final. For Spain: Should two-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who is still working her way back to full fitness from an ACL tear, get the nod? For England: Should Lauren James, who is returning from a two-game red card suspension, move back into the starting lineup?

Each team ended up with the same answer: No. Both Putellas and James are starting the match on the bench in favor of Spain’s Salma Paralluelo and England’s Ella Toone.

What to know about Spain

  • Spain is caught up in World Cup controversy, with players and the national federation at odds. In September, 15 Spanish players declined call-ups until their issues with coach Jorge Vilda and the national team were met. While some players have since returned, others remained off the roster.
  • While the controversy has overshadowed Spain’s World Cup run, USWNT star Christen Press still is finding a way to root for La Roja, saying: “I think that the hope is that the more success the team has, the bigger voice and the more respect that they get from their country.”
  • Salma Paralluelo has had a magical tournament for Spain. The 19-year-old forward has scored off the bench in each of the last two games, and she’ll look to continue her scoring streak in the World Cup final.

What to know about England

  • England head coach Sarina Wiegman is in her second consecutive World Cup final after leading the Netherlands to a runner-up finish in 2019. And she’s planning to stick with the Lionesses, she said Friday, despite her name being connected to the open USWNT head coaching position.
  • Lauren James will return for the Lionesses from the two-game ban she received for her red card against Nigeria, which she earned by stepping on the back of Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in the Round of 16. Before missing the last two rounds of the World Cup, the 21-year-old forward had been electric for England, leading the team with three goals and assisting on three more.
  • Alessia Russo represents not just England but also a long legacy of North Carolina Tar Heels legends, including USWNT stars Mia Hamm and Crystal Dunn. She shared the No. 19 Tar Heels jersey with both players, and she honored them while playing for UNC with patches on her sleeves.

When and how to watch

  • Sunday, Aug. 20 @ 6 a.m. ET
    • Spain vs. England (Stadium Australia, Sydney)

The 2023 World Cup final is available to watch on Fox, Telemundo and Universo. It also can be streamed on the Fox Sports app and on Peacock.

For a second consecutive game, Salma Paralluelo entered a World Cup match as a substitute for Spain. And for the second consecutive game, she made the most of the opportunity.

The 19-year-old forward scored the first goal of Spain’s semifinal against Sweden in the 81st minute to give her team the lead. La Roja went on to win 2-1, advancing to their first-ever World Cup final.

“It was a magic moment,” Paralluelo said after the victory. “I feel extremely proud. All of us are extremely proud of the work we’re doing. We’re just one step away from glory.”

For Spain, Paralluelo is creating much of the magic. She scored her second goal in as many games against Sweden after notching the game-winner against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. It has been a World Cup to remember for the former track star.

She took up both soccer and track at 7 years old. She excelled in the 400-meter hurdles, and she may even have made a run at the Olympics, but she ultimately chose soccer.

“I always saw myself reaching for the top in both sports,” Paralluelo told FIFA last year. “That’s why I wanted to keep on doing them. I’ve been told that I’ve got a body that’s made for athletics, but in football they say that I’ve got great fitness and physique and an ability to learn when it comes to training. I’ve always felt 100% in both.”

Injuries played a role in her decision her to step away from the track, forcing her to pick one sport. But she doesn’t regret the decision, she told FIFA.

“It’s my way of life, my way of having fun and expressing myself. Football is everything,” she said.

“The thing is, if you want to achieve great things, you have to commit yourself to one sport, which is how things turned out that year,” she continued. “It was frustrating for me because I didn’t recover well from my injury and I couldn’t go out and be an athlete again. If I’d carried on, however, I would have lost more than I would have gained.”

And now she has become the second-youngest player to score in a Women’s World Cup semifinal game, following Canada’s Kara Lang in 2003 – who also scored against Sweden. While Spain is missing a number of veteran stars amid a dispute with the national federation, Paralluelo is shining bright for her country in her first World Cup.

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.

Australia: Hayley Raso

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.

England: Alessia Russo

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.

Sweden: Amanda Ilestedt

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.

Spain: Salma Paralluelo

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.