Ten players to watch in the European preliminaries
European qualifiers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 set to start
Some 51 national teams taking part, 12 of them with World Cup experience
FIFA.com looks at ten players hoping to upset the established order
Europe is ready to embark on the road for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, a journey that involves nine groups, 396 matches, and two play-off rounds, with 11 places at the world finals up for grabs. A record 51 national teams will be on the start line, with Andorra, San Marino and Liechtenstein the only absentees. Thirty-nine of the contenders have never reached a FIFA Women’s World Cup, and with the preliminaries about to begin, FIFA.com casts the spotlight on ten players with the skills to take their teams to the big stage for the first time ever.
Group A: Katie McCabe (Republic of Ireland) Capable of playing in every position on the park, with the exception perhaps of goalkeeper, the 25-year-old McCabe has been calling the shots for Ireland for some time now. The scorer of ten goals in 52 appearances for her country, the Arsenal player became her country’s youngest ever captain in 2017 and will spearhead the Girls in Green’s push for a place at Australia & New Zealand 2023. Did you know? McCabe was a leading figure in a successful campaign for equal pay for Ireland’s female and male international players.
Group B: Heidi Sevdal (Faroe Islands) Following the retirement of local legend Rannva Andreasen in 2020, Faroe Islands’ hopes are now pinned on the shoulders of the 32-year-old Sevdal, who has just made her 57th appearance for her country to replace Andreasen as its most capped female player. Sevdal also needs six more goals to become Faroe Islands’ leading all-time goalscorer, with only Andreasen ahead of her on 27. This qualifying competition could see her do just that and cement her own status as a national legend. Did you know? Sevdal scored her country’s first ever Women’s World Cup qualifying goal, against Montenegro on 4 April 2013.
Group C: Karolina Lea Vilhjalmsdottir (Iceland) Now a regular for Bayern Munich, the 20-year-old Vilhjalmsdottir is the new idol of Icelandic football. A versatile performer who can play in both defence and midfield, Vilhjalmsdottir also has a nose for goal, as shown by her tally of three goals in eight caps. She is the figurehead of a promising new breed of young and very promising Icelandic players.
Group D: Natasa Andonova (North Macedonia) North Macedonia’s leading all-time scorer with 14 goals, Andonova is her country’s outstanding player, having run out for Turbine Potsdam in Germany, Rosengard in Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain in France, and Barcelona in Spain. At 27, she still has a lot left to offer. Did you know? Andonova has a sibling following fast in her footsteps, with sister Sijce having made her international debut.
Group E: Haley Bugeja (Malta) The scorer of five goals in ten appearances, Bugeja bears the hopes of a Malta side that can now start to dream of bigger things. Still only 17, the Sassuolo forward is unfazed by all the expectations of her. “I’ve always used pressure as a source of motivation. My motto is: ‘Pressure makes diamonds’.” she recently told FIFA.com. Did you know? Bugeja scored a brace on her Serie A debut against Napoli, at the age of 16.
Group E: Aytaj Sharifova (Azerbaijan) Azerbaijan’s captain and goalkeeper, Sharifova has been working miracles on the international scene for many years now. The 24-year-old was the star of the show in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup her country hosted in 2012. Along with the forward Aysun Aliyeva and the defender Zhala Mahsimova, she was one of the few players from that squad to break into the senior national team. Given her influence on the pitch, it is not hard to understand why. Did you know? Sharifova plays her club football for Okzhetpes, a giant of the Kazakhstan league. She recently became the first Azeri player to appear in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, with her club just missing out on a place in the group phase after losing to Arsenal.
Group F: Janice Cayman (Belgium) Cayman is a leading light of the Belgian game. A veteran of 114 internationals, she is the Red Flames’ most-capped player of all time, and with 40 goals also to her name she could soon become their leading markswoman. World Cup qualifying competitions seem to inspire Cayman, who was the highest scorer in the European preliminaries for France 2019 with ten goals, a campaign in which she also served up four assists. Did you know? Regularly stationed in defence for her club side, Olympique Lyonnais, Cayman plays on the wing for Belgium.
Group G: Ivana Rudelic (Croatia) Born in Germany, Rudelic represented the country at youth level, helping the Germans win the UEFA Women’s Under 17 and Under 19 Championships in 2008 and 2011 respectively and collecting a bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008. Despite having a seemingly bright future with the country of her birth, she went with her heart in 2015 and decided to play for Croatia, her parents’ homeland. Now 29 and Croatia’s joint-highest scorer on 13 goals with Iva Landeka, the Bayern Munich forward has one other objective in mind: to help her national team reach the Women’s World Cup for the first time. Did you know? Rudelic hails from the same generation as Alexandra Popp and Dzsenifer Marozsan, two undisputed legends of the game in Germany. Together they formed a formidable attacking trio at youth level between 2008 and 2012.
Group H: Ana Borges (Portugal) Following the recent departure of the great Claudia Neto – the winner of 135 caps and nicknamed CN7 for her influence on the pitch – the diminutive Borges seems the most likely to pick up the baton. At 31, the versatile No. 9 has made 130 appearances for A Seleçcao Das Quinas and is intent on taking them to a World Cup debut. Having had spells with Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, the Sporting Lisbon player is no stranger to major competitions. Did you know? In 2015, Borges became the first Portuguese woman to win an English league title.
Group I: Lara Prasnikar (Slovenia) The 23-year-old Slovenian forward has scored 23 goals in 37 appearances for her country, a statistic that has made her a star of the national game. The Eintracht Frankfurt player is also in form, having helped herself to five goals in the three matches Slovenia have played so far in 2021. Opposition defenders in Group I will need to be on their guard, with both Prasnikar and Slovenia making significant strides in recent years. Did you know? Prasnikar has a lot to live up to. She is the daughter of former player Bojan Prasnikar, who coached Slovenia’s national men’s team between 2000 and 2002.