Trinity Rodman, Lauren James and the NXGN wonderkids set to shine at the 2023 Women's World Cup

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GOAL picks out the young stars set to shine in Australia and New Zealand, some already household names but others ready for a break-out tournament

World Cup tournaments are exciting for so many reasons. There are always shock upsets, surprise packages and twists and turns along the way as we watch on to see who will be crowned champions of the world. But something else that makes these events so great is that there are always promising young players who rise to the occasion and announce themselves on the biggest stage of all.

In Australia and New Zealand this month, there will be a lot of young players on show who have already established themselves in the women's game, be it in one of the top leagues in the world, at another major tournament, or in the Champions League.

But there are plenty of names unknown to the masses who are ready to have a break-out campaign, too, and ensure they are talked about around the world for the next few weeks and beyond.

Aged 21 and under, GOAL picks out the young players ready to make a real impact at the 2023 Women's World Cup...

  1. Jody Brown (Jamaica)

    Jody Brown (Jamaica)

    Jamaica's star name might be Bunny Shaw but in Jody Brown the Reggae Girlz have another wonderfully talented forward - and one still just 21 years old, too.

    Brown made her senior debut at the age of 16 and, a few months later, was the youngest player to compete at the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship - a tournament at which she scored six goals in six games to help her country qualify for a first-ever Women's World Cup.

    In the time since, she's gotten better and better, asserting herself as a key part of the starting XI after being an impact sub in France four years ago. Brown will have the chance to impress in Australia and New Zealand, then, and may well have a few professional opportunities come her way in the aftermath, as she currently plays for the Seminoles at Florida State University.

  2. Esmee Brugts (Netherlands)

    Esmee Brugts (Netherlands)

    If it wasn't for Esmee Brugts, the Netherlands might not even be at this Women's World Cup.

    With the scores goalless as stoppage time began in the Oranje's clash with Iceland in September, it was the latter set to qualify automatically for the tournament while the 2019 runners-up were in for a trip to New Zealand for the play-offs.

    But then, in the third minute of stoppage time, their talented young forward whipped in a dangerous cross that evaded everyone, nestled in the bottom corner and saw the two nations switch destinies.

    Since that moment, Brugts' role has changed. Previously a regular option off the bench, she's now starting at left wing-back in the Netherlands' new system. It's not where she is best but the 19-year-old is learning plenty and will get the chance to showcase her qualities in New Zealand.

  3. Linda Caicedo (Colombia)

    Linda Caicedo (Colombia)

    One of the breakout stars of the past 12 months, Linda Caicedo has long been highly-rated. After all, she was only 14 years old when she won the Colombian league's Golden Boot and inspired America de Cali to a first-ever title.

    But the young forward hit new heights in 2022, a year in which Colombia hosted Copa America. It was Caicedo who was their stand-out performer, named the Player of the Tournament before picking up the Most Valuable Player award in the final despite her team finishing as runners-up.

    In the months that followed, as her 18th birthday approached, rumours around Caicedo's future were incessant - particularly with her shining at both the U20 and U17 World Cup tournaments, leading Colombia to the final of the latter.

    In the end, she signed for Real Madrid, one of the biggest clubs in the world, at just 18 and has quickly made an impact. For her country, she is talismanic and will be central to any success at her first senior World Cup.

  4. Kyra Cooney-Cross (Australia)

    Kyra Cooney-Cross (Australia)

    Despite having asserted herself as a member of Australia's starting XI, it still feels like Kyra Cooney-Cross hasn't had her huge break-out moment when it comes to being widely talked about outside of her homeland.

    An incredibly tidy midfielder who appears to be almost tireless, the 21-year-old has impressed in Sweden with Hammarby this calendar year with her excellent all-round game, being decisive in the final third while still stepping up on the other side of the ball.

    Cooney-Cross experienced the 2019 Women's World Cup as a training player and, four years on, she's set to be key for the Matildas in their home tournament.

  5. Oluwatosin Demehin (Nigeria)

    Oluwatosin Demehin (Nigeria)

    One of two promising young Nigerian defenders on this list, Oluwatosin Demehin was spotted by Reims head coach Amandine Miquel at the U20 World Cup last year as she helped her country navigate a difficult group to reach the knockout stages.

    In the aftermath, she was rewarded with more chances in the senior national team, featuring in both matches of a double-header against the United States in September before signing for Reims, one of the best clubs in the game for developing young talent, a month later.

    In France, Demehin quickly became a regular in the heart of defence and her experience of one of Europe's top leagues will be hugely beneficial as she prepares for her first senior World Cup.

  6. Melchie Dumornay (Haiti)

    Melchie Dumornay (Haiti)

    Another name linked to Reims, Melchie Dumornay also caught the eye of the French club with her performances at the U20 World Cup - albeit the one that took place back in 2018. The Haitian star was only 14 years old at the time and had to be granted special permission to play but she didn't look out of place at all.

    While waiting to turn 18 years old so she could finally move abroad, Dumornay continued to shine for her country in various tournaments and even had a trial with eight-time European champions Lyon.

    When the time came to leave home, she joined Reims and enjoyed two excellent seasons of development with the club, playing in midfield and as a centre-forward. Midway through her last campaign in northeastern France, Dumornay also scored the goals that fired Haiti to a first-ever Women's World Cup.

    She's now set to represent her nation at the tournament this coming month and then she'll return to Europe to fulfil her dream of playing for Lyon, having signed a contract with them earlier in 2023. It's been quite the year.

  7. Mary Fowler (Australia)

    Mary Fowler (Australia)

    Widely recognised as the most talented player of Australia's next generation, Mary Fowler might only be 20 years old but this will be her second Women's World Cup experience, with her having been part of the squad in France four years ago.

    The versatile forward didn't get on the pitch as a 16-year-old but she'll be an integral part of the Matildas' team this time around, likely sat just behind centre-forward Sam Kerr.

    The hype around the natural talent Fowler possesses has long been huge, with her wonderful technical ability, inspiring creativity and goal-scoring instincts all making her one of the most exciting young players on this planet. She'll hope to show all of that on the biggest stage over the next month.

  8. Aoba Fujino (Japan)

    Aoba Fujino (Japan)

    A member of GOAL's inaugural NXGN Nine earlier this year, Aoba Fujino was handed her senior international debut in late 2022 after starring for Japan at the U20 Women's World Cup and she has quickly set about becoming a regular in the starting XI.

    An attack-minded player capable of operating out wide or more centrally, the 19-year-old has excellent footwork and a wonderful ability to find pockets of space in which she can cause serious damage to the opposition.

    Fujino goes into the World Cup in flying form, too, having just scored 11 goals and provided eight assists in just 20 league games for Tokyo Verdy Beleza, who she also helped win the Empress's Cup.

  9. Maika Hamano (Japan)

    Maika Hamano (Japan)

    In January, Chelsea announced the signing of Japan's richly talented Maika Hamano. With her having spent the first few months of her Blues career on loan at Hammarby in Sweden, this World Cup will be an opportunity for many of the club's fans to see what the youngster is all about.

    Hamano was the star of the U20 tournament last year, winning the Golden Ball and Silver Boot awards as her team reached the final, and those performances were rewarded with senior national team opportunities in the months that followed. In the time since, she's set about showing that she has the quality to change games as an impact sub.

    She comes into the World Cup in good form, too, having quickly caught the eye in Sweden thanks to her ability to drop deep and create chances as well as her goal-scoring prowess.

  10. Rofiat Imuran (Nigeria)

    Rofiat Imuran (Nigeria)

    Another top talent spotted by Reims at last year's U20 Women's World Cup, Rofiat Imuran still only has a handful of caps to her name at 19 years old but she looks set to be Nigeria's first choice left-back in Australia and New Zealand.

    The defender moved to France with her compatriot, Demehin, late last year and has already shown a lot of quality in her short time in one of Europe's best leagues, even scoring in back-to-back games in May.

    Imuran will be tasked with keeping some fantastic wingers quiet over the next month but head coach Randy Waldrum clearly has a lot of trust in the teenager, with her promising future likely to only get brighter thanks to such an experience.

  11. Lauren James (England)

    Lauren James (England)

    Whether as a starter or as an impact sub, Lauren James is sure to make her mark on this World Cup. The 21-year-old has struggled with injuries in recent years but, with the help of some patience from Chelsea's staff, she finally got on top of them this past season to enjoy consistent game time again.

    James was electric for the Blues despite playing at a higher level and on bigger stages than ever before, with key contributions against former club Manchester United and a brace against Paris Saint-Germain among her stand-out moments.

    Though usually a winger, England head coach Sarina Wiegman trialled the forward in a No.10 role in the Lionesses' send-off friendly in early July and she thoroughly impressed. Perhaps we'll see James there in Australia, too.

  12. Kathrine Kuhl (Denmark)

    Kathrine Kuhl (Denmark)

    Last summer, Kathrine Kuhl had her first taste of major tournament football and it was a bittersweet one. The Denmark international was sent off for two yellow cards in the first group game, missed the second as a result and then was her country's star player in their third match - albeit, one which ended with them being eliminated from the tournament.

    A year on, the 20-year-old is now playing for a top club, having signed for Arsenal in January, and has become an even more important player for her country, starting regularly in the midfield.

    Also capable of operating out wide, Kuhl is creative, she has great footwork and can find the net from range, too. After showing glimpses of all of that at Euro 2022, she can be even better at the World Cup.

  13. Lena Oberdorf (Germany)

    Lena Oberdorf (Germany)

    Named the Best Young Player at the Euros last summer, there was a real case for Lena Oberdorf to be named Player of the Tournament, period. She was absolutely sensational as Germany reached the final.

    Still only 21 years old, the Wolfsburg star is comfortably one of the best holding midfielders in the world, with her biggest strengths coming in the way she breaks up play and gets stuck in. That said, one shouldn't overlook her ability in possession either.

    After starring in England, Oberdorf goes to her second Women's World Cup an even better player, her ever-improving game on full display this past season as she helped Wolfsburg defy the odds to reach the Women's Champions League final.

  14. Salma Paralluelo (Spain)

    Salma Paralluelo (Spain)

    After injury deprived her of the chance to represent Spain at last summer's Euros, Salma Paralluelo will get her first taste of a senior major tournament this year and she could well be a starter, too.

    The teenage forward has been on fire for Barcelona in her first season with the club, scoring 11 goals in the league despite being granted just nine starts, and ended the campaign with three winners' medals after helping the Catalans triumph in Liga F, the Supercopa de Espana and the Women's Champions League.

    With Mariona Caldentey one of three players to declare themselves available for selection again for Spain as a dispute between the players and the federation goes on, Paralluelo could now be deployed on the right wing at the World Cup, a role which will allow her to cut inside onto her lethal left foot and become perhaps even more of a goal threat.

  15. Trinity Rodman (United States)

    Trinity Rodman (United States)

    One of the most exciting young players on the planet, Trinity Rodman has already established herself as a wonderful talent in the two and a half years since she was chosen second overall in the NWSL Draft.

    The winger was integral as the Washington Spirit won an incredibly unlikely Championship title, voted the league's Rookie of the Year, named in its Best XI and crowned U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year in the aftermath.

    Her explosive movement out wide is a nightmare for any opposing full-back, with her excellent footwork and confidence to drive at goal all making her all the more dangerous.

    Rodman's ability to link up with others is impressive, too, and she goes into her first Women's World Cup in great form as she competes for a starting role with the U.S. women's national team.

  16. Alyssa Thompson (United States)

    Alyssa Thompson (United States)

    This time last year, Alyssa Thompson was playing with a men's team in MLS Next and preparing to represent the United States at the U20 Women's World Cup.

    Fast forward 12 months and she's about to head to the senior version, having been picked at No.1 in the 2023 NWSL Draft and shone for Angel City since entering the league - all while still being just 18 years old.

    Thompson is unlikely to be a starter for the world champions - though she could get that chance with some group stage rotation - but she will make a real difference from the bench with her creativity, confidence and colossal talent.