10 of the greatest women’s footballers of all time
Women’s football has perhaps never been more popular than it is now, in 2023, especially as we head towards the World Cup later this year in Australia and New Zealand.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been producing unbelievable players for years, who have taken the sport by storm and smashed several records along the way.
Right now it seems a lot of focus is on the England national team who are unbeaten in 29 matches under Sarina Wiegman and finally ended their long wait for glory in winning Euro 2022. But it’s a World Cup year and the United States will be looking to continue their dominance of the competition having secured a fourth title in France four years ago.
Then there’s the likes of the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, who will be looking to count themselves as members of the top table after recent difficult periods.
And let’s not forget about Japan either, who have revolutionised women’s football with their unique tactics and philosophies. But which players have made their mark over the years in women’s football, both on and off the pitch?
We’ve put together a list of 10 of the best and most inspirational women to play the game. Trust us, this was really hard and to prove that here’s a brief list of the players that missed out: Brandi Chastain, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Tiffeny Milbrett, Kristine Lilly, Hanna Ljungberg, Kelly Smith, Homare Sawa, Shannon Boxx, Ada Hegerberg. We could go on for days…
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International caps and goals: 163 caps, 106 goals
We’ll kick off with one of the greatest of all-time, China’s Sun Wen. Before retiring in 2006 she scored 11 goals in 28 major tournament games, and won both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 1999 World Cup finals in the USA.
In 2002, she was crowned FIFA Female Player of the Century – an award she shared with the next member on this list.
International caps and goals: 153 caps, 105 goals
Akers had an incredible record for the United States national team. She was the leading scorer at the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1991, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win over Norway in the final.
She won the tournament again in 1999, but not before winning an Olympic gold medal in 1996 and being awarded the FIFA Order of Merit in 1998. Oh, and there was that FIFA Female Player of the Century award and being one of just two women named in Pele’s greatest living footballers list in 2004. Nice going, Michelle.
International caps and goals: 214 caps, 128 goals
Prinz is regarded as probably the best female European footballer ever, and is the second-highest goalscorer in World Cup history with 14 goals to her name, having won the tournament twice.
She was crowned FIFA World Player of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and has won the Women’s Bundesliga five times, the UEFA Cup (the former name of the Champions League) three times and the European Championships five times. She retired in 2011 and now works as a sports psychologist for both the male and female teams at Hoffenheim, as well as the German women’s national team.
International caps: 146
Angerer is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest female goalkeeper of all-time, and the only goalkeeper (male or female) to have been named as FIFA World Player of the Year (Lev Yashin won the Ballon d’Or in case you were wondering).
She’s won the World Cup twice and the UEFA Women’s Championship five times, saving two penalties in the 2013 final against Norway.
International caps and goals: 234 caps, 29 goals
You might want to sit down after reading this. Formiga first made her debut for Brazil in 1995 aged just 17 in the World Cup. Fast forward 28 years and the Brazilian was still going, and not just making up the numbers.
In 2019 Formiga took part in her seventh World Cup, a record in both the women’s and men’s games, also becoming the oldest player in the tournament’s history, aged 41. Not to mention she’s appeared in every Olympics women’s football tournament since its first edition in 1996. The 2021 Olympics was the last involvement for Formiga as she announced her retirement from international football, making her last appearance in November of that year.
Formiga, now aged 45, is still playing club football but is currently searching for a new team having left Sao Paulo at the end of last year.
Position: Midfielder/ Striker
International caps and goals: 322 caps, 190 goals
The record goalscorer in international football history, both men and women, Christine Sinclair took top spot in early 2020 with her 185th strike – adding another five since extend her lead. She’s participated in five World Cup tournaments and is part of an exclusive three-member club of players to score at as many editions of the tournament, the other two being Marta and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sinclair has represented Canada at the Olympic games four times, finally winning Gold on her most recent attempt in Tokyo. She is also the record recipient of her country’s Soccer Player of the Year award, which she won 14 times between 2000 and 2018.
Christine Sinclair has now scored the most goals in international football history.
1st goal: 14/03/2000
185th goal: 29/01/2020
Incredible. 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/Q90Ypkkjik
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 29, 2020
International caps and goals: 255 caps, 184 goals
How do we start to possibly sum up the talent of Abby Wambach and contribution to football that she’s made? Between 2001 and 2015, Wambach scored 184 goals for the United States, a record that stood for five years before Sinclair broke it.
To make Wambach’s return even more impressive, her tally at major tournaments reads as 29 matches and 22 goals. Having won the World Cup in 2015 for the first time ever, Wambach retired aged 35, leaving behind a legendary career that has seen her come to be regarded as one of the most influential sports people on the planet.
International caps and goals: 276 caps, 158 goals
Before the aforementioned Wambach came along, Mia Hamm was the all-time leading goalscorer in international history, but saw her record toppled in 2013 by her fellow American. She does still hold the assists record for the USA though with a whopping 144 (eat that Kevin De Bruyne!).
Hamm was arguably the original poster woman for the sport in the 1990s, winning the World Cup twice and an Olympic Gold medal, and was the first-ever recipient of the World Player of the Year award in 2001.
International caps and goals: 199 caps, 63 goals
Rapinoe, the 2019 Ballon d’Or winner, made positive headlines both on and off the pitch in France as she helped the United States secure a fourth World Cup – winning the Golden Boot and Golden Ball en route to glory. It was her second World Cup triumph and added to the plethora of trophies she has won at national level.
But, perhaps more importantly for the sport, Rapinoe used her platform to speak out against the problems of the world and looked to inspire the voiceless.
International caps and goals: 174 caps, 115 goals
Marta is quite literally the female equivalent of Pele in Brazil, and although she’s never actually won the World Cup with the Selecao, she’s seen as equally important as the legendary number 10. In 2019 she became the first player to score 17 goals at World Cup finals, among both men and women, moving two clear of former Germany striker Miroslav Klose.
She can add this to her six World Player of the Year awards, and at 37 years old she is now intent on inspiring the next generation of Brazilian female footballers – though she’s still got the magic herself.
Marta's powerful message as Brazil were knocked out of the competition was everything 🙌🙌pic.twitter.com/gdG7aabIx2
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) July 8, 2019