The names of the young women eligible for the Hyundai Best Young Player award at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ were made public on 28 May, and with just a few days to go before the opening match of the tournament, all the players on the list, who had to have been born after 1 January 1995 to be considered, will likely have their eyes on this illustrious prize.
There are 54 contenders altogether, six of whom – defenders Nina Kpaho, Miriam Diakite and Sophie Aguie, midfielders Jessica Aby and Aminata Haidaba, and forward Nadege Cisse – feature in the Côte d’Ivoire squad preparing to make its debut at the Women’s World Cup.
It goes without saying, therefore, that although coach Clementine Toure is anxious for her charges to perform well in Canada, she also has one eye on the Ivoirian senior team of the future.
Another team taking a tentative step onto the world stage for the first time, Ecuador, can boast five names on the list, including midfielder Alexandra Salvador, who is unlikely to feel too homesick in North America, having been born in Canada.
Nigeria, making their seventh appearance at this level, have three starlets in their ranks who reached the final of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014, Courtney Dike, Sarah Nnodim and Halimatu Ayinde, with Dike even contributing the fastest goal in the history of the tournament (18 seconds) against Korea Republic.
The Africans lost out in that final to a Germany side featuring Pauline Bremer and Sarah Dabritz, who would each like nothing more than to return home with another trophy – the Hyundai Best Young Player award – packed away in their luggage.
The competition for the accolade will be fierce, as demonstrated by the inclusion on the shortlist of prolific Dutch attacker Vivianne Miedema, who topped the scoring charts during the European qualifying campaign with 16 goals and won the Frauen-Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich.
Other high-profile stars in with a chance include French defender Griedge Mbock Bathy, who earned the adidas Golden Ball for her performances at the 2012 FIFA U-17 World Cup and finished second in the voting at the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup, and Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg, who scored an impressive 33 goals in 30 matches for Lyon during the season just past.
Last but not least, the precocious pair of 15-year-old Costa Rican prodigy Gloriana Villalobos *and 17-year-old Canadian playmaker *Jessie Fleming, both competing in their third FIFA competition in just over a year (after the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups in 2014), are certainly not on the list to make up the numbers.
As for Australia’s Caitlin Foord, ineligible this time around due to her birth date of November 1994, but winner of the Hyundai Best Young Player award at Germany 2011, she will no doubt follow the decision of the FIFA Technical Study Group, as to who will succeed her on 5 July in Vancouver, with great interest.