When the 2011 Women's World Cup kicks off in Germany on June 26, we'll be seeing a tournament widely expected to be the most competitive yet. Not only are the teams very evenly matched, the pool of individual players is as talented as it's ever been since the tournament began in 1991. If Germany and Brazil meet in the final, for example, there will be two players with a combined eight FIFA Player of the Year trophies between them (Marta with five and Birgit Prinz with three).
So we've decided to name the best starting XI we'll see on the field this summer. In order to spread out the talent, we're including only one player from each team in the starting lineup. The bench includes the players we couldn't fit into the starting lineup.
Hope Solo, goalkeeper (United States)
The world's best goalkeeper is back in action after missing seven months due to right shoulder surgery. She played the game of her life in the 2008 Olympic final -- including a heart-stopping, point-blank save on Marta in the second half -- leading the underdog U.S. to a win over Brazil in one of the most memorable women's soccer games in recent memory.
Ali Riley, defender (New Zealand)
The 2010 Women's Professional Soccer Rookie of the Year is headed into her second World Cup for New Zealand. While the Football Ferns aren't expected to make much noise in the tournament, Riley has proved herself as one of the most reliable defenders in WPS and imposes herself on the attack from her left back position.
Linda Bresonik, defender (Germany)
Picking just one German player for the best XI isn't an easy task, but Bresonik earns the nod. She started every match in 2007, when Germany didn't concede a goal en route to winning it all. She's also a solid attacker on the flanks.
Sonia Bompastor, defender (France)
Bompastor is another dangerous offensive option at the outside back position. She's so crafty and creative on the ball that she was most popular in her WPS years with the Washington Freedom (2009 and 2010) as a midfielder.
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJapan's Aya Miyama plays in the midfield, and is at her best on free kicks.
Aya Miyama, midfielder (Japan)
Japan's Miyama is at her most dangerous when taking free kicks. Her laser-like shots were on display in Japan's first game of the 2007 tournament as she netted two free kick goals, including the equalizer deep into second-half stoppage time, in a 2-2 draw with England.
Caroline Seger, midfielder (Sweden)
After a bit of a bumpy start in Women's Professional Soccer in 2010, Seger was a dominant force late in the season. She's played well with her new Western New York Flash team this season. Sweden's captain will be looked upon to get the offensive attack going for her side.
Kelly Smith, midfielder (England)
England's greatest player will take the field in Germany for her second, and likely last, World Cup. Through England's first three games in 2007, Smith had four goals and was rivaling Marta for player of the tournament. But England ran into the U.S. in the quarterfinals and was promptly bounced from the competition. Smith has had an injury-riddled career, but has played some of her best soccer in recent years. She was a star at the 2009 European Championships and finished fourth in FIFA's Player of the Year voting in 2010.
Yorely Rincon, midfielder (Colombia)
Maybe it's too soon to list Rincon, who's just 17, on the best XI, but there's something to be said for star power. The latest player to be bestowed the "Next Marta" title, Rincon electrified audiences in the 2010 U-20 World Cup.
Lisa De Vanna, forward (Australia)
De Vanna missed most of 2010 with a broken leg, but when healthy at the 2007 Women's World Cup, she was the super sub of the tournament. In 2009, she became a starter for the Washington Freedom, and her speed -- she's one of few players who can rival Marta with on-the-ball pace -- didn't tire over the course of 90 minutes.
Christine Sinclair, forward (Canada)
Canada's greatest player comes into the Women's World Cup on a hot streak after tearing up WPS in her first few games with the Western New York Flash. She's one of the most lethal finishers in the world.
Marta, forward (Brazil)
The debate in the 2011 Women's World Cup won't be whether Marta is the world's best player. The debate will be whether Marta is the greatest player of all time, surpassing Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Birgit Prinz. She is. No player has ever possessed the creativity, speed and finishing touch that Marta displays. She doesn't dive, practices just as hard as she plays, never gets subbed out and isn't selfish with the ball. At 25, she's headed into the World Cup on her best game.
Abby Wambach, forward (USA)
One of the world's most prolific goal scorers, Wambach is fit after battling Achilles tendinitis earlier this year.
Birgit Prinz, forward (GER)
In what will be her final World Cup, Prinz can extend her record as the all-time leading scorer in Women's World Cup history (14 goals).
Inka Grings, forward (GER)
Picking just two German players for the bench is difficult, because the team is the most talented in the tournament. Grings earns a spot on the bench as Germany's third all-time leading scorer.
Fara Williams, midfielder (ENG)
She's been battling a knee injury this spring, but if Williams can stay healthy during the tournament, she is poised for a breakout performance on an England side with high hopes.
Camille Abily, midfielder (FRA)
France's No. 10 was one of the WPS's most popular players before returning to France this year.
Candace Chapman, defender (CAN)
Chapman has quietly become one of the most reliable defenders in WPS over the past two years.