2023 World Cup: Who will replace missing key players this summer?

General view during the Women's FIFA World Cup 2023 Bid announcement
General view during the Women's FIFA World Cup 2023 Bid announcement media opportunity at Parliament House on June 13, 2017 (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Ahead of the upcoming 2023 World Cup, excitement is reaching fever pitch as we approach kick-off down under for what’s set to be another outstanding football showcase. Underlying this excitement has been a justified sense of disappointment however, as so many of the game’s premier names have already had their tournament dreams dashed.

A lot of media coverage has understandably been directed towards the players who are missing out this summer. The fact that names as big as Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema and Marie-Antoinette Katoto are all confirmed to be unavailable for selection has left a huge talent hole. However, little has been said about the players in line to replace those stars this World Cup.

Some of football’s top nations will be lining up with some relatively unfamiliar names in their starting XIs, so here’s a look at a select few who could receive the opportunity of their careers this July.

Fenna Kalma for Vivianne Miedema — The Netherlands

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Arsenal and Netherlands ace Miedema suffered an ACL injury last December which ruled her out of the World Cup and meant the Oranje would be without their star player and goalscorer.

Miedema has scored a whopping 95 senior goals for her country and her presence will be sorely missed. But someone has to step up in her place — enter Fenna Kalma.

The 23-year-old is still in the early stages of her career but has scored an astonishing 91 goals and added 23 assists in her last two seasons for FC Twente. This form earned her a move to Champions League runners-up Wolfsburg, where she will look to showcase her talents on a larger stage in Germany.

Kalma stands at 5’11 and is a lethal finisher — she can score with both feet and excels in the air. The striker is in prime position to make a name for herself on the global stage this summer.

Lauren James for Beth Mead — England

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Lauren James is already a household name. With her racking up more than 60 WSL appearances at the age of 21, the Chelsea forward is rightly seen as one of the most promising players in the world. It might come as a surprise to some then that the former Manchester United star has still only played in 10 senior games for the Lionesses.

The competition in the wide areas for England has been competitive over the last couple of years, with Mead, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly all providing different qualities and options for Sarina Wiegman. This has meant it’s taken a little longer for James to break into the squad on a regular basis, until now.

The 21-year-old has had an outstanding year for the Blues, notching eight goals and five assists in all competitions while providing blistering pace and elite technical ability to the Chelsea attack. This form has seemingly earned her the starting spot on the right side for England.

James has started three of five games for her country since Mead suffered her ACL injury late last year. She will undoubtedly elevate her growing reputation even further in Australia and potentially replace the Arsenal star’s spot at this World Cup.

Irene Guerrero for Patri Guijarro — Spain

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Spain look set to have close to a full squad for this summer’s tournament, something which would’ve seemed farfetched a couple of months ago. One of the players still opting out of a call-up is Barcelona star Patri. With the Champions League final goalscorer still refusing to play for Spain under current boss Jorge Vilda, an absence that will be sorely felt for La Roja as they look to bounce back from an underwhelming Euro 2022 campaign.

One player who will look to help them do that is Atlético Madrid’s Irene Guerrero. The midfielder played a total of 66 minutes combined at last year’s Euros as her nation crashed out in the quarter-finals, a game in which she was an unused substitute. Her prospects for game time look a lot better this year though, with no Patri to compete with.

As a player, Irene can’t rival the creativity of Guijarro, but she also plays in an Atleti team that are nowhere near as dominant as Barcelona. What the midfielder does offer is an ability to retain the ball in any situation, an intelligence unmatched by the majority of midfielders and a remarkable engine that her teammates and coach will appreciate.

Irene isn’t as eye-catching as some of the other names on this list, but the Spaniard is still going to play a key role for one of the favourites to win it all.

Jess Carter for Leah Williamson — England

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This one is a little bit strenuous. Technically, it’ll be Alex Greenwood sliding across from left-back to replace Leah Williamson at centre-back this World Cup, but that leaves space for Jess Carter to come into the starting XI on the left.

Carter has enjoyed the best season of her career for Chelsea as she played 30 games in all competitions and helped the club retain their WSL crown.

The full-back improved with every passing week in the 2022/23 campaign and her inclusion in England’s World Cup squad came as a surprise to no one. With Rachel Daly no longer being viewed as a defender and Greenwood being required in the centre, competition for the left-back role is scarce, but nobody can argue Carter doesn’t deserve her opportunity.

The former Birmingham player doesn’t quite possess the on-ball ability of Lucy Bronze on the right side, but she compliments her well by being a tough, disciplined defender with deceptive recovery pace. Elite technical ability isn’t required in her role either, as Greenwood and her remarkable passing ability will be next to her at centre-back.

Left-back is still seen as England’s problem area, but Carter will hope that won’t be the consensus post-World Cup.

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