With the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand fast approaching, we look at who could emerge as the tournament’s sharpshooter as we delve into the details of five potential contenders.
We’ve selected five players who all stake their claim in different ways. Whether it’s history and experience or coming into the competition as a relative novice but with a great domestic season behind them.
First up is the hosts’ record goalscorer and one of the very best in the game, Chelsea and Australia’s Sam Kerr.
With the backing of a home crowd and the Aussie record of 63 international goals behind her, we see Kerr as one of the more obvious choices to deliver when it really matters for her team. Indeed, she has scored more goals than any other player in the English Women’s Super League (WSL) since her debut in January 2020, with 54 in 67 games, 16 more than Vivianne Miedema, who hit 38 in 57 games in the same period.
It’s not surprising for a striker, but the 29-year-old is most dangerous inside the opposition penalty area. Kerr doesn’t tend to get too involved in the play up until that point and that’s shown by the fact she had the highest proportion of touches in the opposition box (26.1%) of all the players to have scored eight or more goals in the WSL during the 2022-23 season. Stina Blackstenius of Arsenal was the only player to have had fewer touches per 90 minutes with 33.9 compared to Kerr’s 36.1, showing that she is happy to wait for her opportunity in the latter stages of build-up play.
Not only does she score poachers’ goals with her feet, but she also finishes superbly well with her head. Considering her relatively modest height of 5-foot-6, the fact she has scored 35.8% of goals via headers suggests she has brilliant movement, a great leap and, probably most importantly, excellent timing in the air.
She didn’t have her most prolific season for Chelsea in 2022-23 but still managed to score 12 league goals as her side secured another WSL title and the FA Cup, with Kerr scoring the only goal of the game against Manchester United in the final at Wembley. All her goals last season came from inside the box, which is unsurprising when you consider she only had seven attempts from outside the area across the whole campaign.
Not only was it her lowest scoring full season at Chelsea, but it was also her least productive in terms of shot conversion, with 15.2% of her shots leading to goals. That is likely down to the fact that her shots were of a lower quality (xG per shot 0.14) and the quality of the chances presented to her were also lower than in any previous league campaign at Chelsea (xG per 90 of 0.63).
In terms of previous editions of the World Cup, it hasn’t been plain sailing for one of the world’s best. Now, of course, a lot of that could be down to the team she was playing in. The Matildas have become much more competitive on the world stage in recent years, including at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when they narrowly lost the semi-final 1-0 to Sweden and eventually picked up fourth place – their best finish in four Olympic appearances.
She heads into the World Cup in good form for her country, having registered the crucial first goal in April’s 2-0 friendly win over England at Brentford’s Community Stadium.
Kerr failed to find the net in her first two World Cups, having had 13 unsuccessful shots across the two tournaments in 2011 and 2015, but in 2019 in France she found the net five times in four games, finishing just one goal behind Ellen White, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan (six goals each). It would be fitting if Kerr won the Golden Boot this year in her home nation.
Winning the World Cup Golden Boot in the same year as winning the award in the WSL would be no mean feat, but it’s something Rachel Daly could accomplish this summer. This choice won’t shock too many following her 22 goals in the 2022-23 WSL season – a tally that equalled Miedema’s competition record within a single campaign.
With only three of those league goals coming from the penalty spot, her non-penalty stats are impressive. Those 19 goals seeing her sit in fifth place among non-penalty scorers within the top five European women’s leagues last season, while she also had a total of 28 direct goal involvements – again, the highest in the English top flight.
Her tally of 13 England goals aren’t a fair reflection on her ability as a striker, having made many of her international appearances so far in various other positions. At last year’s UEFA European Championship, for example, Daly was ever-present as a left-back across England’s successful summer. She’s only been consistently utilised as a number 9 for England in the last 11 months, stepping into the shoes of the retired Ellen White and now fights it out with with Arsenal’s new signing Alessia Russo for the starting berth up top for the Lionesses.
England’s warm-up game at home to Portugal saw Daly play the opening 45 minutes and Russo the second. Whichever way around England boss Sarina Weigman decides to play it, there are certainly goals available in this tournament for Daly, it’s just a case of whether she can take the opportunities presented to her.
We saw the impact that England substitutes could have on games in their Euro 2022 success – seven of their 22 goals came from subs (32%) – so even if Daly does have to make do with second-half appearances, her pace and nous in and around the box can certainly yield goals. Added pressure will be on Daly (and Russo) to provide goals, with Euro 2022 top scorer Beth Mead ruled out of the World Cup through injury.
Like Kerr, the 31-year-old is at her best inside the penalty area. Just six of her 22 goals saw her involved in the build-up before putting the ball into the net, while just one came from outside the box. Off the ball, Daly is exceptional and her ‘double’ movements cause defenders many problems, which often leaves her plenty of time and space to finish.
Her 23.5% non-penalty shot conversion rate is very impressive, with only Inter Milan’s Tabitha Chawinga (35.8%) and Alexandra Popp of Wolfsburg (27.6%) yielding a better return among the 12 players with 14+ non-penalty goals across Europe’s top five leagues. In terms of her non-penalty xG in the WSL, only Khadija Shaw of Manchester City (16.66) and Kerr (10.87) posted a higher value than Daly’s 10.4.
Since moving permanently to the centre forward position for England in the autumn of 2022, she has scored five goals, including the two headers in the 2-1 win over Italy at the Arnold Clark Cup in February. Her record in the air is decent too, having scored four headers for Villa last season, but can she head up the scoring charts?
Another ‘safe’ pick for the Women’s World Cup Golden Boot, if there is such a thing, is Germany and Wolfsburg’s Alexandra Popp.
Her credentials as a footballer were realised early on in her life as she attended Gesamtschule Berger Feld, a school in Gelsenkirchen which is one of only four facilities certified as an Elite School of Football by the German Football Association. She was the only female pupil and needed a special permit to attend.
Many fans – perhaps mostly German or neutral – would suggest that had Popp not suffered an injury in the warm-up of the Euro 2022 final last summer, Germany would have had a much better chance of overcoming England and taking home the trophy for a ninth time.
That injury was cruel on Popp, as she’d already scored six goals in the tournament and her absence in the final meant she was pipped to the Golden Boot by England’s Beth Mead after the Lioness tallied more assists (four) than she did (zero) and therefore won the title, as well as the UEFA Player of the Tournament award.
Popp’s 16 goals for Wolfsburg in the Frauen Bundesliga saw her win the domestic top scorer title last season – her biggest threat coming aerially. She scored nine headed goals in league action, which was more than any other player in the top five European leagues in 2022-23, accounting for a huge 56.3% of her goal tally.
Popp is another who is most at home inside the penalty area with only seven from her 58 shots in league action across 2022-23 coming from outside the area, with only one of those resulting in a goal.
Last summer’s European Championship was by far Popp’s most prolific in terms of goals at major tournaments. The 2022 edition was 32-year-old Popp’s first Euros finals as she missed the 2013 and 2017 tournaments through injury.
She has featured in three World Cups though, scoring just three goals. Having failed to score in the 2011 finals, her first World Cup goal arrived in Canada in 2015 as Germany finished in fourth place. She then scored twice at the 2019 finals in France as her team were knocked out at the quarter-final stage.
Popp’s international record in general is not to be sniffed at. She has scored a more than respectable 62 goals in 128 international games – a total that sees her sit in fifth place in Germany’s all-time top goal scorers list, but just two more strikes this summer would see her jump to joint third alongside Inka Grings.
Eugenie Le Sommer
The oldest of our five candidates is perhaps one of the less predictable selections. Thirty-four-year-old Le Sommer found herself in the international wilderness for two years having fallen out with previous French national team manager Corinne Diacre. When Diacre was replaced by Herve Renard, Le Sommer was reinstated and has repaid her new coach with three goals in three appearances – her 87th, 88th and 89th goals for her country, which see her sit eight goals clear at the top of the all-time French women goal table.
Le Sommer hasn’t had a huge amount of game time in the run up to the World Cup, which perhaps leads to her being more of a wildcard pick. However, she’s excellent at finding great goalscoring opportunities with her positioning. With a non-penalty xG per 90 of 0.85 for Lyon, she ranked third across Europe’s top five leagues in 2022-23 of players to play at least 1,000 minutes of action. Of those players, she was ranked second for average non-penalty shot quality (0.23 xG per shot), behind only Barcelona and Nigeria star Asisat Oshoala (0.24).
She is another who is at her most lethal when she plays within the confines of the penalty area as her seven league goals last season all came inside the box, while only nine of her 41 shots in the league came from further than 18 yards out.
Le Sommer’s major tournament record stands at eight goals in 28 games. Her best return was at the 2015 World Cup in Canada where she scored three goals from 14 shots – including one against England in the opening game, a 1-0 victory for France. She was not selected for last year’s Euros though.
Le Sommer knows what it takes to win, and that experience could be key this summer for France. She’s already picked up a staggering eight UEFA Women’s Champions League winners medals, alongside 10 league titles in France. Dismiss Le Sommer’s credentials as a potential Golden Boot winner this summer at your peril.
If Le Sommer is considered a potential wildcard pick, then the United States’ Sophia Smith is the definite wildcard of these five candidates. She has a fight on her hands to even get on the pitch with the USA’s co-captain Alex Morgan amongst a talented crop of forwards Smith will compete with out in Australia and New Zealand.
Her form for Portland Thorns in the NWSL, however, points to her coming into her first World Cup in great shape and she offers a different threat to our previous selections.
Half of her 10 league goals have come from a distance beyond the 18-yard box. With those 10 strikes, Smith is atop of the goalscoring table and second in the assists chart with five to her name. In fact, Smith is also top of the charts with 72 shots attempted and 38 shots on target.
After earning her first international call-up at the age of 16 in 2017, she had to wait until 2020 to make her full debut. The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will be her first and so we’re entering a bit of the unknown. She was the first player born after their 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup win to earn a senior cap for the USWNT.
The 22-year-old did score twice against Jamaica in the 2022 CONCACAF Championships on the way to the USA winning the title for the ninth time, so she has some experience of senior international tournament football. She also represented her country in the 2018 U20 World Cup, where she scored three goals and registered one assist across 253 minutes at the tournament in France, despite the team failing to progress beyond the group stage.
Smith isn’t all about goals, though, and her crucial involvement in the build-up to shots sees her sit at the top of the charts when compared to her NWSL colleagues. With an impressive 104 involvements in shot-ending sequences in just 1,060 minutes, she is clear of some more established players such as Crystal Dunn and Lynn Williams. Of those 108 involvements, 72 were shots of her own, she created 18 chances for others and was involved in the build-up to a shot a further 18 times.
Despite her relative lack of experience at international level, Smith has still scored 12 goals in her 30 appearances, including a hat-trick against Uzbekistan in April 2022.
Smith’s good form for Portland isn’t limited to the 2023 season. In 2022 the forward recorded a club record 14 goals in a single season as she led her team to the NWSL Championship, and she was also named the Championship game MVP. In doing so she became the youngest player in NWSL history to achieve such an honour.