A year later than planned, the pandemic-delayed Women’s European Championship takes place in England this month, at a time when the women’s game is enjoying a popularity surge.
Barcelona Femeni packed out Camp Nou twice for Champions League games in the season just ended, in what was the most eye-catching sign of years of steady growth.
Many players who a decade ago would have needed part-time work to supplement their playing wages are now enjoying the trappings of being full-time professionals.
It means these players are physically sharper, more tactically astute, and skill levels are soaring skywards, making Euro 2022 an unmissable prospect.
Here, Stats Perform looks at seven players who could emerge as dominant stars of the tournament.
Alexia Putellas, Spain and Barcelona
Generally considered to be the world’s best player, Putellas became the first Spain women’s international to reach 100 caps on Friday when she played and scored in a 1-1 friendly draw against Italy. She runs the show for Barcelona, captaining the team, and delivered a flood of goals from midfield. She hit 34 goals across all competitions last season, including a four-minute hat-trick against Valencia, and in the Champions League she was named player of the season, despite her team’s 3-1 defeat to Lyon in the final.
— UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 (@WEURO2022) July 1, 2022
Irene Paredes, Spain and Barcelona
If Putellas pulls the strings in the opposition half, it will likely fall to Paredes to organise at the other end of the field, as favourites Spain look to keep it tight at the back. The Barcelona centre-back is set to captain Spain, who are seeking their first European Championship title. After joining last year from Paris Saint-Germain, Paredes helped Barcelona to a polished Primera Division campaign of 30 wins from 30 games, with only 11 goals conceded. Almost 11 years since making her debut in Euro 2013 qualifying, Spain will look for Paredes to lead by example.
Pernille Harder, Denmark and Chelsea
Harder is a serial winner at club level, having won four consecutive league and cup doubles with Wolfsburg before joining Chelsea for a reported world-record fee in September 2020 and adding back-to-back WSL and FA Cup doubles. The classy forward will create chances for others but is also a deadly finisher, scoring 68 goals in 134 internationals. Runners-up last time, Denmark will look to Harder to ensure they are in the mix again this month.
Ada Hegerberg, Norway and Lyon
Hegerberg is the returning Norway heroine, coming back into the fold in March after almost five years in self-imposed exile, having previously been upset by the national federation’s treatment of the women’s game. A true superstar of the game, the Lyon striker and former Ballon d’Or Feminin winner suffered an ACL injury in early 2020 that kept her sidelined for 20 months, but she is emphatically back now, as she proved when scoring in the Champions League final win over Barcelona – a 59th European club competition goal in her 60th such game.
— Ada S Hegerberg (@AdaStolsmo) June 23, 2022
Beth Mead, England and Arsenal
Once a teenage revelation at Sunderland, now at Arsenal, Mead had to wait until just before her 23rd birthday before earning a first England cap. In the four years since that debut, she has floated in and out of the team, with the Lionesses having serious riches with their attacking options. This could be the Whitby-born player’s tournament, with Sarina Wiegman expected to include her in an attacking three behind a main striker. Mead has hit three hat-tricks for England in the last nine months and is also a highly creative player from the flanks. She is one of a handful of England attackers who could light up the tournament.
Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands and Arsenal
Mead’s club-mate has enjoyed a stunning five-year spell in the English top flight, hitting a record 74 Women’s Super League goals in 89 games. In May, the former Bayern Munich player agreed a new deal with the Gunners, and now she will spearhead the Netherlands’ European title defence. Described by team-mate Jill Roord as “an absolute killer”, Miedema helped the Netherlands reach the 2019 World Cup final and scored a record 10 goals at the Tokyo Olympics, despite the Dutch campaign ending with a quarter-final penalty shoot-out loss to the United States. Miedema surprisingly missed from the spot, so she is not perfect, but defences will fear her presence over the coming weeks.
10% – @oranjevrouwen have a 71% chance to advance to the quarter-finals of #WEURO2022 according to Stats Perform’s prediction model, but four countries have a higher chance of winning the tournament than the Netherlands (10%). Outsiders? https://t.co/kg0ohqZZNj pic.twitter.com/LTxp312jz1
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 28, 2022
Marie-Antoinette Katoto, France and Paris Saint-Germain
The PSG and France men’s teams have Kylian Mbappe, and the women have Marie-Antoinette Katoto, a record-breaking superstar in her own right. Both are 23 years old, both have over 100 goals for PSG, and both could lead their country to trophy glory this year. Katoto became PSG’s record scorer in the women’s game last season, and last week agreed a new contract tying her to the capital club until 2025. There lies another Mbappe parallel, with PSG determined to keep the striker out of the clutches of rival clubs, knowing she is the sort of talent that could make an explosive impact on Euro 2022.
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