Ten to watch in Women's World Cup
Some of these women already have reached true superstar status, thanks to years of dazzling play. Others have been flying below the radar or are newcomers looking to make their marks in the Women's World Cup.
Whatever the case, one thing is clear -- these are 10 players to keep an eye on:
Precious Dede, goalie, Nigeria
The Delta Queens of Asaba are known for their offensive flair and prowess, but if Dede isn't sharp in goal, the game can still be lost. Dede is a veteran keeper, starting in two Olympics and, now, three World Cups. She is the team's captain and has publicly stated her goal of Nigeria finally advancing beyond the quarterfinals. Dede, 31, is charismatic and, at times, dramatic, which is fitting, given that she hopes to be an actress when her soccer career ends.
Isabell Herlovsen, forward, Norway
It's funny how things turn out in life. Herlovsen is a known name in Germany, as her father, Kai Erik Herlovsen, starred for Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Bundesliga from 1982 to 1990. He also played for Norway's national team. Now, Kai Erik's daughter is looking to find soccer fame in Germany. This is her second World Cup; she helped Norway advance to the semifinals in 2007. Herlovsen, 23, is a smart player who is rarely beaten by miscues.
Mana Iwabuchi, forward, Japan
She's only 18 but plays with a flair and confidence well beyond her years. She is a technically sound player, epitomizing the Japanese system, but also has the ability to improvise and take chances around the box. She was just called up to the national team in February and has quickly moved into a prime role. Iwabuchi is petite, standing only 5 feet tall, but darts past taller, stronger players like a hummingbird with her speed and skill.
Eugenie Le Sommer, forward, France
The French soccer establishment has been centered on its successful men's teams, but a new crop of players such as Le Sommer might draw attention to the women's game. Le Sommer, 22, is a flexible player, able to play midfield or move up into an aggressive striker mode when called upon. She has become an integral part of Les Bleus scoring, with five goals in 11 qualification games for the 2011 World Cup. This is the first World Cup for Le Sommer, who was promoted to the national team in 2009.
Marta, striker, Brazil
What more can be said about the world's best female soccer player? Marta, 25, is confident, but not cocky. She's fast, smart, creative, loves to use her teammates to set up plays and has a global following. Just plug her name into Google or YouTube and see what comes up. Like another amazing Brazilian player, the immortal Pelé, Marta is putting her stamp on the game. The big thing missing from Marta's sparkling résumé: winning the World Cup.
Birgit Prinz, striker, Germany
She's been the heart and soul of the German team for more than a decade, helping it win two World Cups and three Olympic bronze medals. Prinz, 33, is also the face of German women's soccer and one of the most recognized athletes in the soccer-mad country. Prinz is a stealthy striker and already the most prolific goal scorer (14) in tournament history. She's tough and aggressive and knows how to capitalize on her chances. But her health will be a question, as she comes into the World Cup nursing a sprained right ankle.
Christine Sinclair, forward, Canada
She's the face of the resurgent Canadian women's team, best displaying the speed and Euro-style tactics put in place by coach Carolina Morace, a former Italian World Cup star. Sinclair, 28, has been named Canada's Female Footballer of the Year six times and has been a rising star since playing against boys when she was small. This is her third World Cup, and she wants to show that Team Canada is not satisfied just to make the field. It now wants to advance.
Kelly Smith, forward, England
It has become normal to see Smith, 32, limping around the field. Fans murmur, "Is she OK?" and then Smith finds new life and continues to play well. She has overcome a knee injury, foot and ankle injuries, depression, and alcoholism to maintain her status as one of the world's best. She's not the swiftest player but has strong vision and the ability to anticipate plays quickly. Smith's international stardom has been curtailed by Team England's failures in qualifying for the World Cup. Her first World Cup was in 2007.
Abby Wambach, forward, U.S.
It's unlikely for Wambach, 31, to ever be on the pitch and not draw attention. She's tall, standing 5-11, and is always driving toward the goal. She's hard to mark, using her size as a weapon to control play. She's one of the team's most experienced players and a team leader. And usually, Wambach's in-game fate foreshadows how the U.S. will fare. The American squad is 76-1-2 in international play when Wambach scores.
Rosie White, forward, New Zealand
The mission for White, and the rest of the Football Ferns, is clear: score goals. New Zealand's trip to the 2007 World Cup was a bit embarrassing as it was unable to score a single goal in three group-round matches. White, 18, might have the magic to end the drought through her creativity with the ball in her first World Cup. Opponents will gear their defenses to stop White's runs, so she will need her teammates' help to shake free.