Football Features

The most exciting women’s players at the 2020 Olympics

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:55, 20 July 2021

The 2020 Olympics is finally here and for women’s football it’s a chance for players to write their names into the history books.

While the men’s tournament is limited to mostly under-23 players, the women’s side of the game is unrestricted, with some of football’s best players in action. As a result, some nations may value the Olympics as the secondary international tournament to the World Cup, ahead of the European Championships and other continental competitions.

Germany are the defending champions but they failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics after a poor showing at the 2019 World Cup (which European countries used as qualification), with England, Sweden and Netherlands all advancing further.

So, there will be a new winner this year with the United States looking to claim title number five. As mentioned, some of women’s football’s biggest stars will be involved in Tokyo this summer with the likes of Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Megan Rapinoe, Mana Iwabuchi, Christiane Endler (and so many more) all set to represent their countries.

But who has made our top 10 for the most exciting players at the 2020 Olympics? It was a tough contest…

10. Lineth Beerensteyn (Netherlands)

Age: 24

Club: Bayern Munich

One of the players to perhaps go under the radar slightly among a very talented Netherlands squad is Lineth Beerensteyn, who goes into the Olympics off the back of a good season with Bayern Munich. The 24-year-old winger was directly involved in 10 goals across 27 games across the Bundesliga and Champions League last season to help Bayern win the title and reach the semi-finals of the European competition. Beerensteyn hasn’t been a starter for Netherlands in their first team, but she will undoubtedly cause a lot of problems for defenders when she does play.

9. Lauren Hemp (Great Britain)

Age: 20

Club: Manchester City

Lauren Hemp is a three-time PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year winner, completing her hat-trick following the 2020/21 Women’s Super League season which was her best to-date. The 20-year-old, who turns 21 the day after the Olympics final, was excellent for Manchester City last season as they pushed Chelsea all the way in the WSL title race, forming a particularly frightening wing partnership alongside Chloe Kelly. Hemp was directly involved in 14 goals in just 15 appearances following an early injury and has been one of the bright sparks in a poor England team under Hege Riise.

8. Sam Kerr (Australia)

Age: 27

Club: Chelsea

When Sam Kerr arrived to England in the winter of 2019/20, the Australian forward came under criticism for a slow start to life at Chelsea littered with big misses. But those who knew the striker, particularly from her time in the NWSL and Australia’s W-League, remained faithful and she came good in 2020/21. There were still some big chances missed, but Kerr ended the 2020/21 WSL campaign as the top scorer, netting 21 times in 22 games, outperforming her xG of 17.7. Kerr also added eight assists in the league and, across all competitions, was directly involved in 41 goals to help Chelsea win the Continental Cup and reach the Champions League final. For Australia, Kerr is captain and has scored 42 goals in 92 caps.

7. Marta (Brazil)

Age: 35

Club: Orlando Pride

Marta is one of the biggest names in women’s football and the 2020 Olympics is possibly her last chance of winning a gold medal with Brazil after two silvers in 2004 and 2008. The six-time World Player of the Year is now 35 but still dominates the field for Brazil and is the top-scoring player in their squad, currently on 107 goals in 151 appearances. Marta’s impact on the Brazil team is less visible through goals and assists now, but her importance to the nation is clear to see when watching her, as most of their play goes through the midfielder.

6. Christine Sinclair (Canada)

Age: 38

Club: Portland Thorns

Tokyo 2020 will provide another opportunity for Christine Sinclair to further cement her legacy as the best goalscorer in women’s football history, as she looks to guide Canada to glory. The 38-year-old is the highest goalscorer in international football, netting 186 times in 299 appearances for Canada, breaking the record previously held by Abby Wambach in January 2020. It has been a tough run since then due to injury, but Sinclair is expected to lead the line for Canada at the Olympics in what could be her last major tournament for the national team. Sinclair is also three goals behind Brazilian Cristiane in the list of the Olympics’ all-time top scorers, so will be looking to break that this summer.

5. Formiga (Brazil)

Age: 43

Club: Sao Paulo

Talking of massive names in women’s football, the ageless Formiga is preparing for her seventh, yes SEVENTH, Olympic games, more than any other player in history (this will be the seventh women’s football tournament) and a feat not many athletes can lay claim to. Celebrating her 43rd birthday in March, Formiga continues to dominate the midfield at club and international level, recently helping Paris Saint-Germain to the league title ahead of rivals Lyon. Formiga will spend next season at Sao Paulo, ending a four-year stay in Paris, but not before she tries to finally win the Olympic gold medal with Brazil. When Formiga does step on the pitch this summer, she will also become the oldest player to feature in the women’s football tournament at the Olympics, breaking a 25-year record held by former Brazilian goalkeeper Meg.

4. Christen Press (United States)

Age: 32

Club: Free agent

Christen Press may not have hit the heights many expected of her at Manchester United in the WSL last season but she has been phenomenal for United States this year, helping them win the SheBelieves Cup and go into the Olympics in top form. The forward has scored five goals in 2021 for the USWNT including three in her past three, scoring a brace in a friendly win over Mexico at the start of July. Press left Man Utd in the summer and is currently a free agent, which makes her performances at the Olympics even more important, playing for a move (that she will undoubtedly get due to her quality. But can she do it in an Olympics-winning tournament?

3. Debinha (Brazil)

Age: 29

Club: North Carolina Courage

While Marta and Formiga are the star names, Debinha will be Brazil’s main attacking threat this summer, aided by her ability to play across the front line, she’s provided the versatility Pia Sundhage needs. The 29-year-old can play on either wing, as a centre-forward or deeper in midfield, and doesn’t really have one main position for club or country. At the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year, Debinha was the starting centre-forward for Brazil and scored twice as they finished second behind United States but she immediately dropped deeper when returning to North Carolina Courage, though she was still scoring. Brazil will be relying on Debinha.

2. Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands)

Age: 25

Club: Arsenal

Vivianne Miedema is 25 but is already the highest-scoring player in WSL history (59 goals) and for the Netherlands national team (73 goals). That’s it. That’s all you need to know about the Dutch striker. But to go into more detail about Miedema and her quality, she goes into the Olympics off the back of another great season for Arsenal in which she scored 18 league goals and recorded five assists, a return that had some underwhelmed – such is her quality. The most remarkable thing about Miedema’s scoring record is that she’s not an out-and-out goalscoring centre-forward, with her preferring to drop deep to open up space for runners and create opportunities herself from around the halfway line.

1. Fran Kirby (Great Britain)

Age:

Club: Chelsea

No player at the Olympics had a better 2020/21 than Fran Kirby, who won the FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year, PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year and Barclays FAWSL Player of the Year for her role in helping Chelsea win the WSL. She has also been tipped to win the Ballon d’Or (though she faces stiff competition from Barcelona’s stars). Across all competitions last season, Kirby was directly involved in 43 goals, scoring 25 and providing 18 assists. That alone is enough to make Kirby’s achievement impressive, but the real story is that she only returned from a battle with pericarditis that had threatened her career last summer. Had the Olympics gone ahead as scheduled last summer, Kirby would not have been anywhere near the GB squad having not played football between November 2019 and the start of 2020/21.

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