With the Women's Euros freshly underway in the Netherlands, Kieran Theivam picks out five players to shine, including a a dynamic England and Arsenal Ladies midfielder.
Lieke Martens (Netherlands)
Forward Vivianne Miedema is the face of the Dutch team, a deserved recognition. But playing just to the left of her in a front three - or wide in a midfield four - is her team-mate, Lieke Martens.
Some will remember Martens scoring in the Netherlands’ opening game of the 2015 World Cup, when she hit a beauty of a goal against New Zealand to hand her side its first ever World Cup victory.
That goal, cutting in from the left-hand side onto her right foot and unleashing an effort from distance, is where Martens’ strength lies. She has an ability to run at players with pace, and even though defenders are expecting her to drive inside, stopping her is a completely different challenge.
Playing alongside the likes of Marta at Rosengard for the past two years has seen the 24-year-old Dutch attacker raise her game to another level. This summer, she completed a move to ambitious Women’s Champions League semi-finalists Barcelona. Reports in Spain suggest the move is the first that has seen a transfer fee paid by a Spanish women's club.
Martens has shown her quality already in the opening game of Euro 2017 (a 1-0 win for the hosts against Norway). It was her curling, pinpoint cross that allowed Liverpool's Shanice van de Sanden to head home for the game's only goal.
Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway)
It was at the Algarve Cup in 2013, just before the European Championship in Sweden, that a 17-year-old Ada Hegerberg and 18-year-old Caroline Hansen announced themselves to international women’s soccer. The pair both scored against world champion Japan, who had no answer to the young duo’s brilliance in a 2-0 loss to Norway.
While Hegerberg has gone on to win two Women’s Champions League titles with Lyon and numerous individual accolades, Hansen has quietly gone about her business since leaving her native Norway, playing for Tyreso and current club Wolfsburg.
She missed the 2015 World Cup due to injury, but her ability is without question. Now, she has a big stage to show it off again. Often played on the right of a front three for both club and country, the 22-year-old’s quality on the ball and ability to run at defenders is almost unrivaled. She has an eye for goal and her relationship with her fellow forwards is excellent. Defeat against the hosts in the tournament opener is a setback for a Norway, but the quality is there for the team to turn it around against Belgium and Denmark to qualify from the group. Hansen will be key to that.
Jordan Nobbs (England)
Heather O’Reilly described Arsenal Ladies team-mate Jordan Nobbs as “probably the fittest player I’ve ever played with” - and this is coming from an individual renowned for her athleticism.
Nobbs has developed into one of England’s most dynamic midfielders and is now vice-captain in Mark Sampson’s side, despite still only being 24. Her energy and ability to play almost anywhere in midfield has ensured she is one of the first names on the England team sheet.
Sampson has deployed Nobbs in multiple positions since taking over the Lionesses, playing her out wide on the right hand side, sitting in an advanced midfield area as a No.8, or, as we saw against the US at the SheBelieves Cup, in a deeper role where she marshaled Carli Lloyd.
Nobbs is coming off of an impressive FA Women’s Super League Spring Series with Arsenal, scoring four goals in eight games. Importantly, she's also developing into a leader. Having been an unused squad member at Euro 2013 and suffering with injury at the 2015 World Cup, Nobbs will be desperate to show why Mark Sampson should be building his team around her.
Pernille Harder (Denmark)
Fans of the NWSL will know Portland’s Nadim as a genuine threat to any defense in world football, but it's her attacking partner that grabs most of the attention back home.
Wolfsburg forward Pernille Harder is the player that makes Denmark tick. She's the focal point, the leader and the player that's key to helping her country progressing out of the most difficult group of the first round.
Harder’s goal-scoring record in Sweden for her previous club, Linkopings, was remarkable. It led her side to a league title over a Marta-inspired Rosengard in 2016, which earned Harder the league’s MVP award and a move to her current club in Germany.
Less than a year later, she was celebrating a league and cup double with Wolfsburg, scoring a brace in the German Cup final in a 2-1 win over SC Sand.
Harder is not just a goal-scorer, though; she possesses intelligence beyond her years and experience at 24 years old that some don’t have at 34. Her link-up play with Nadim is key, while she and Denmark will be looking to prove a few doubters wrong after they reached the semi-finals in 2013 without actually winning a match in 90 minutes. They have at least improved on that already: Harder captained the Danes to a first-match 1-0 win over Belgium, to put them joint top of Group A alongside the Netherlands.
Jennifer Hermoso (Spain)
Spain’s Algarve Cup triumph earlier this year brought more attention to Jorge Vilda’s side. People took even more notice when he left former Portland Thorns star and Spanish legend Vero Boquete out of the squad for Euro 2017. But players like Jennifer Hermoso, more commonly known as Jenni, will take on the baton that Boquete has passed on.
The former Barcelona forward has been an integral part of the Spanish national team for over five years and was one of the team’s standout players when her side shocked England at the Euro 2013, scoring in a 3-2 win.
Hermoso, who joined PSG this month, was also part of the 2015 Spanish side that flopped at the World Cup. That resulted in all 23 squad members signing a letter appealing for the resignation of coach of 27 years, Ignacio Quereda.
Hermoso and her team-mates have thrived in the two years since, with the 27-year-old forward finding a new lease on life for both club and country. She is frightening to watch on the ball, typically Spanish with her technical ability, and has a keen eye for goal. Hermoso may not be the biggest name on this list, but if Spain progresses deep into the tournament, you can guarantee she will have played a big part in that. You’ve been warned.