Over the past two decades, the Women's World Cup has gone from strength to strength, thanks in no small part to the larger-than-life players that have graced its stage. More legends will emerge and further stories will be told in Australia and New Zealand this summer, but every good tale must come to an end.
And, sadly, the 2023 World Cup will be the last opportunity we get to marvel at some of the most revered players of all time. Megan Rapinoe headlines the list of departing heroes, but she is far from the only icon whose international career is drawing to a close.
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Megan Rapinoe (United States)
It was hardly a surprise but Rapinoe confirming that she would be retiring at the end of the 2023 NWSL season still grabbed headlines around the world. The USWNT star has transcended women's football for some time, with equal attention being paid to her forthright comments on societal issues and her performances on the pitch.
Rapinoe is one of a sizable group of U.S. players looking to complete a historic three-peat in Australia and New Zealand, having helped the Stars and Stripes claim world glory in 2015 and 2019. Her performances in France four years ago were particularly impressive and she rightly claimed the Golden Ball.
It will be a tough ask to replicate this inspirational form over the next month - particularly as she is unlikely to start - but lifting the trophy once again would be a fitting end to a quite remarkable career.
It has long been whispered that this summer would be Marta's final World Cup and the competition's all-time top scorer eventually confirmed this to be the case in June. Widely recognised as one of the best to ever do it, her World Cup journey began all the way back in 2003.
Just 17 at the time, Marta netted three times in the group stages before Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Sweden. Four years later her legend began to be properly forged, as she netted four times - including an iconic brace against the USWNT in the semi-final - en route to winning the Golden Ball.
Unfortunately, her side would fall short in the final, losing 2-0 to Germany. This would be the closest Marta would come to lifting the World Cup trophy and her chances of breaking that duck this summer are scarce. Regardless, her place as a transformative figure in the women's game is secured.
Christine Sinclair (Canada)
Sinclair recently turned 40, but she's still leading the line for Canada and will compete in her sixth World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand. A series of quite sensational stats speak volumes of the forward's astonishing career.
Sinclair has been capped an insane 323 times by Canada, with only U.S. legend Kristine Lilly making more appearances for their country. One record Sinclair does hold outright is international goals, with the veteran netting 190 times to date.
Canada are entering the World Cup amid significant turmoil off the pitch, with the team going close to withdrawing from the SheBelieves Cup due to a feud with their football federation over budget cuts. Canada Soccer were even reported to be considering filing for bankruptcy in the lead up to the tournament.
It's vital that this nonsense does not detract from what is likely to be Sinclair's final tournament. She deserves so much more.
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Alex Morgan (United States)
"Right now I'm taking it one season at a time. My body feels good, and I feel like I'm in the moment right now, so I'm not looking too far ahead."
That was Morgan's verdict when quizzed if she might follow longtime team-mate Rapinoe into retirement. Clearly then, nothing is certain. But it's difficult to imagine Morgan carrying on four another four years, particularly with so many talented youngsters gunning for her place in the United States' side.
If she does ride off into the sunset before the next World Cup, she will be difficult to replace on and off the pitch. Morgan has averaged well over a goal every other game during his international career and has helped front the U.S. soccer boom over the past decade and a half.
Eugenie Le Sommer (France)
Lyon legend Le Sommer will be 38 when the 2027 World Cup rolls around. She could still be in the international picture, but time is clearly running out for her to lift the World Cup before retiring.
The centre-forward will be playing in her fourth tournament this summer and Marie-Antoinette Katoto's injury means her goal-scoring prowess will be more important than ever.
After an extended period of off-field turmoil - with Le Sommer bizarrely being left out of France's Euro 2022 squad by unpopular coach Corinne Diacre - Les Bleues look in better shape heading into the World Cup. Tournament specialist Herve Renard will be at the helm and Le Sommer will be desperate to make her mark after a challenging few years.
Maren Mjelde (Norway)
There are few players more dependable in world football than Mjelde. She showed that once again at club level this season, slotting in at centre-back for the final stretch of Chelsea's season and helping Emma Hayes' side complete a historic double.
Mjelde will be just as important for her country this summer. She is the only elite defender that Norway possesses, earning 165 caps to date and appearing at three World Cups.
She'll make it four this summer, but a fifth could be a stretch. She'll be 37 in 2027.
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Ali Riley (New Zealand)
If New Zealand are to have a successful World Cup on home soil, Riley must perform. The Angel City captain - who also skippers the Football Fearns - was born in Los Angeles but has racked up over 150 caps for the country of her father's birth.
She will be competing in a fifth World Cup and playing in front of a home crowd provides a chance for Riley to have a storybook ending to her international career.
However, she and her team-mates are not there to make up the numbers. "There’s a lot of pressure to win a game and to actually have a good World Cup. So that’s our goal," Riley said back in June.
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Alyssa Naeher (United States)
Thanks to the incredible staying power of Hope Solo, Naeher arrived fairly late to the international scene, not making her full debut until 2014. She has made up for lost time since though, helping the Stars and Stripes win back-to-back World Cups in 2015 and 2019.
Her place in the starting XI is assured this summer, but after that the picture is less clear. Although Naeher is showing few signs of ageing, she will be 39 when the 2027 tournament kicks off.
This could be her last chance to add another World Cup winners' medal to her silverware collection.
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Sherida Spitse (Netherlands)
One of only seven European players to earn over 200 caps for her country, Spitse was instrumental in the Netherlands' run to the 2019 final. She registered a joint-high four assists in the tournament, all of which came from set pieces.
With Vivianne Miedema missing the tournament through injury, Spitse's creativity will be required once again if the Dutch are to put in a strong showing this summer.
Last season she helped Ajax edge out FC Twente by one point to lift just their third Eredivisie title. She'll be 37 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, meaning this could be her final act on the grandest stage of them all.
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Kelley O'Hara (United States)
O'Hara is another member of the USWNT squad hoping to secure a third successive World Cup victory in 2023. However, it seems unlikely she will be playing as big a role in the team as she did during those two previous triumphs.
Although there have been muted calls for her to occupy the right-back position, it's expected that either Sophia Huerta or Emily Fox will be given the nod.
Instead, O'Hara's role is likely to be closer to a dressing-room leader, especially with captain Becky Sauerbrunn missing out through injury. "In her absence, there's added responsibility on all of us veterans and leaders to step up and contribute to guiding the team because that's what she was so good at," she reflected recently.
With more than 150 caps to her name, she is well placed to help fill the leadership void.
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Caroline Seger (Sweden)
Seger is going into her fifth World Cup knowing it's her final chance to tick off the one thing missing from her legendary career: a gold medal at a major tournament for her country.
The metronomic midfielder has come agonisingly close on several occasions, losing in the World Cup semi-finals twice and also collecting a pair of Olympic silver medals, but securing a top prize has always eluded her.
Sweden are not among the favourites, but they have big-tournament experience - none more so than Seger. It would be a heartwarming tale if they did manage to finally go all the way this summer.
Onome Ebi (Nigeria)
Ebi has been ever present at World Cups in recent years; this summer will be her sixth. Although she has not revealed whether she plans to continue playing for her country or not, now aged 40, this will surely be her final major tournament.
Ebi will be motivated to go out with a bang by at least equaling Nigeria's quarter-final finish in 1999 - the furthest any African team has ever made it in the Women's World Cup.
The Super Falcons have a good chance of achieving this goal, having been placed in an extremely open Group B alongside the Republic of Ireland, Canada and hosts New Zealand.