It's been a great World Cup so far but as we reach the business end of the competition it's time to look at three stars who have really shone so far.
Vivianne Miedema – The Netherlands
In 2017, Vivianne Miedema burst onto the football scene, scoring the winning 2017 European Championships semi-final goal against The Lionesses. Miedema signed for Arsenal Women in the summer of that year, and played a fundamental part in helping Arsenal to their first domestic title win since 2012 with a tally of 22 goals and 10 assists in her second season at the club, in which she also won PFA Women’s player of the year.
Coming into the World Cup in such blistering form, it did not take Miedema long to make her mark. During their group stage win against Cameroon, at just 22 years of age, Miedema became The Netherlands’ all-time top-scorer with her 60th goal for her country. Her first came from a driving run across the box, dispatching the ball into the back of the net with a bullet of a header from 6 yards. Her record breaking 60th came in the second half, where Miedema collected the ball from 30 yards out and pierced the Cameroon defence with a driving run, cutting inside with her right-foot and lacing the ball powerfully inside the keeper’s near post.
To have broken the all-time scoring record for her country at the age of just 22, shows just a fraction of what the young striker is capable of now and in years to come. Miedema spearheads one of the most potent attacking front threes left in the competition, made up of Lieke Martens (Barcelona) and Shanice van de Sanden (Olympique Lyonnais), enough to strike fear into the heart of any defence that The Netherlands face in the knockout rounds.
Caroline Graham Hansen – Norway
Perhaps not a name as familiar to some of the spectators of the women’s game, Graham Hansen has shown this tournament exactly why Champions League finalists Barcelona Women were so desperate to sign the Norwegian winger earlier this year.
Graham Hansen is a rare gem of a player who looks as if she is going to make something special happen every time she is on the ball. Her player of the match performance against Australia in the round of 16 summed up exactly why she is one to watch this tournament. Time and time again Graham Hansen tested the Australian defence with her direct runs, skipping past defenders and creating chances for her teammates throughout the 90 minutes and into extra time. When playing backwards to her defenders in the dying seconds of normal time looked like the only realistic option, with a quick drop of the shoulder Graham Hansen cut inside past two Australian defenders, and bent a spectacular curling effort towards the goal, only for it to bounce cruelly off the inside of the post and back across the goal-line, inches away from what would’ve been one of the goals of the tournament. Into extra-time Graham Hansen remained a constant threat, and it was only a superb finger-tip save from the Australian goalkeeper that tipped wide her right-footed drive which looked bound for the roof of the net. Graham Hansen confidently dispatched her country’s first penalty in the shoot-out which set the tone for the rest of her teammates, who were a class above Australia when it came to spot-kicks.
England's Lionesses will do well to ensure that they limit Graham Hansen’s time and space on the ball in what is set to be a mouth-watering Quarter-final this Thursday evening.
Ellen White – England
Before the eve of the World Cup, it would have been difficult for any England fan to predict who would start the first game out of the two main strikers: would it be Ellen White or Jodie Taylor? After an impressive four goals in five games, Ellen White has firmly cemented herself as first-choice striker for The Lionesses. After scoring the second goal in England’s opening game against Scotland, it was White’s performance against Japan which earned her starting spot in the knockout rounds, with manager Phil Neville calling her “undroppable” for her clinical finishing abilities and tireless work-rate off the ball.
Ellen White was quick to make her mark in the round of 16 tie against Cameroon which proved to be a feisty affair, filled with VAR controversy against a bullish Cameroon side. White chased down an over-weighted pass that seemed to be heading for a goal-kick, sprinting 20-yards and squaring the ball into the box in order to keep England’s attack alive. When the Cameroon goalkeeper picked up the loose back pass from her defender following White’s cross, England scored from the resulting indirect free-kick. In the second half, White stood her ground centrally whilst the disjointed Cameroon defence tried to clear their lines; spotting this, Lucy Bronze played a through ball which White trapped perfectly with her right boot and rolled the ball round the keeper into the bottom corner. Despite initially having the goal ruled out for offside, The Lionesses benefitted from a correct VAR decision and the goal was awarded.
With White’s phenomenal work-rate upfront, English fans can look forward to the Quarter final with Norway on Thursday, confident that she will only need half a chance before she dispatches her next tournament goal on a world stage. However, against stronger opposition, it is crucial that England do not leave White isolated, but create the right opportunities for her to have as marked an impact on the game as she has in the tournament thus far.
By Nell Boxall