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The eight Golden Ball nominees at the WWC

A look at FIFA WWC Golden Ball nominees ahead of Germany vs England and USA vs Japan

July 4, 2015 By Michelle Bonsu
All but one of the eight Golden Ball nominees will be playing in the Germany-England and USA-Japan matches on July 4th & 5th. Here's a look at who's in the running for the best player at this World Cup.

Later today, Germany and England will battle it out for third in the consolation match before the USA take on Japan in a re-match of the 2011 World Cup final. And for seven players, they will also have the chance to win a pretty impressive personal accolade: the much sought-after Golden Ball. In the past, players like Japan's Homare Sawa, Brazilian star Marta, German icon Birgit Prinz, China's Sun Wen have all gotten their hands on the coveted prize.

For the past few tournaments, the winner of the Golden Shoe has also won the Golden Ball. There are, however, two exceptions, in 1991 and in 1995. In the inaugural World Cup, hosted by China, it was the USA's Michelle Akers who won the top scorer prize whilst her fellow World Cup winning teammate Carin Jennings headed home with the top player crown. Four years later, in which Norway won its first and only World Cup to date, Ann-Kristin Aarønes earned the top scorer prize whilst Hege Riise was crowned as the best player.

So, who are the eight players in the running for the seventh Golden Ball prize? Here they are:

Saori Ariyoshi - Proving that size does not matter

At just 5 ft 2 in and 117 pounds as per her official stats, Saori Ariyoshi does not fill the stereotype of a "typical" defender, with her slight frame and overall petite stature. However, like her compatriot Yuto Nagatomo, who plies his trade for Inter Milan, she has shown that one does not have to be a giant or more powerfully built in order to be an effective member of one's team's defense. At this tournament, Ariyoshi has played in all but one of Japan's six games and has enjoyed a solid World Cup, netting her first ever international goal against the Netherlands during the Nadeshiko's 2-1 victory in the round of 16.

Ariyoshi (no. 19) celebrating Japan's win over England along with teammate Azusa Iwashimizu

Proving 100 per cent that size does not matter, the 27-year-old is not afraid to get stuck in against opponents who oftentimes are much larger than she, having committed eight fouls and received one yellow card for her efforts. 

Lucy Bronze - A tough defender who has a knack of scoring crucial goals

Here is an interesting fact many may not know about England's Lucy Bronze: one of her names is actually Tough. No, that is not a nickname, but rather her mother's maiden name - Bronze being her father's surname. The 23-year-old defender, who can play as a left, right, or centre back, has proved to be a clutch player for the Three Lionesses, who have had their best ever World Cup campaign in their history.

Bronze, in her debut World Cup appearance has netted twice for her country. And both goals were decisive in the team's impressive progress. The first, against Norway, was the game-winner as England came from behind to win their first-ever knock-out round in their history. And the second, against Canada, proved to be enough despite the hosts trying to stage a late comeback with a goal from Christine Sinclair.

Bronze (no. 12) celebrating her game-winner against Norway, won the WSL twice with Liverpool in 2013 and 2014 as well as the PFA Player of the Year in the same year

Despite her team's heart-wrenching loss to Japan in the semi-finals, she and England have a chance to cap off their excellent tournament with a third-placed finish should they defeat no. 1 ranked side Germany.

Amandine Henry - A rising star in the heart of France's midfield

Prior to this World Cup, not many had probably heard of France's Amandine Henry. However, with her screamer of a goal in her team's 5-0 thrashing of Mexico, her name will perhaps become more familiar to fans outside her native country. The 25-year-old featured in five matches for Les Bleues and provided to be a solid presence in the middle of the park for Philippe Bergeroo's squad. Despite seeing her side exit after a tense penalty shoot-out against Germany, Henry will surely be fired up for the next World Cup, which will be hosted on her home turf.

Henry (no. 6) who plays her club football for Lyon, has enjoyed a slew of team accolades with her club team but will be keen on adding a World Cup title to that in 2019

And in case one was wondering about her brilliant goal against the Mexicans that had people talking, here's a look:

Scroll to around 1:40 in the video to check out Henry's long-range effort

Julie Johnston - A rock in defense for the USWNT

So far, the USWNT has only conceded one goal in the entire tournament. This is quite impressive as the Stars and Stripes first were placed in the toughest quartet in the group stages, with fellow top-ten sides Sweden and Australia, as well as Nigeria. Yet, they not only managed to get through without losing a single game but also manage to keep Sweden and Nigeria from scoring.

Whilst Hope Solo has deservedly earned praise for her numerous saves and inspiring shut-out record that now has reached over 500 minutes and counting, the star keeper would not be able to do her work without the help of the ladies who make up the team's defense. At the heart of the meanest back-line at this World Cup have been two centre-backs: Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston.

With this duo working brillantly alongside Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg, the USWNT has kept the likes of Colombia, China, and Germany all at bay as they have now made it to the final without giving up a single goal. Johnston, who captained the U-20 winning side in 2012, has easily made the transition from the junior teams to the senior squad. The 23-year-old, who has featured in the full 90 minutes in every single game for Jill Ellis's squad actually used to play as a midfielder until being converted to a defender during her university days.

Johnston has been a rock in defense for Jill Ellis's side at this tournament despite being only 23

Three years after leading the U-20 side to glory, she now stands on the cusp of repeating the same feat in her debut World Cup with the senior team and despite her young age, her teammates will be counting on her to put in another top-notch performance against Japan.

Carli Lloyd - Leading the Stars and Stripes all the way to the final

What a World Cup this has been for USA midfielder Carli Lloyd. Since making her debut in 2005, the 32-year-old has earned a bronze and silver at the past two World Cups but arguably has had her best ever tournament in her career this summer.

Lloyd, who fired the USA to Olympic gold by scoring twice against Japan in 2012, has netted three goals in her past three games for the USWNT during the knock-out stages of this World Cup. More important, all of them have been vital to their progression to their second consecutive final this Sunday. First, it was a penalty to seal a win against Colombia after Abby Wambach had surprisingly missed her earlier effort.

Then, she scored a header to finally edge out a staunchly defensive China in a match that their opponents would have been happy to push till penalties. And lastly, she again delivered from 12 yards out to open proceedings against Germany before setting up Kelley O'Hara to seal the win against familiar foe Germany.

Lloyd has been decisive for the USWNT as they navigated their way through the knock-out stages

In her last two matches, Lloyd also served as the team's captain in the absence of Wambach, who has had to settle for a spot on the bench. On Sunday, she will likely again lead the side in a final that will feel like déjà vu but will hopefully have a better outcome than four years ago, when she was one of three players to miss her penalty against Japan.

Aya Miyama - A classy midfielder hoping to again inspire her team to glory

They say that form is temporary, but class is permanent. And Japan's Aya Miyama definitely has both. The 30-year-old midfielder won the respect of USA fans by going over to congratulate them on a good performance prior to joining her teammates in celebration following the Nadeshiko's historic World Cup win in 2011. Nonetheless, expect her to put aside any well-wishes for the 90 minutes - or more - of action in this eagerly anticipated repeat final.

Miyama, who won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics has served as her team's captain with veteran striker Sawa largely taking a back-seat. She has played in all six of Japan's games from start to finish and has been involved in four of the team's goals, including grabbing the game winner against Switzerland and opening the scoring against England.

On Sunday, she will be up against Solo yet again and it will be interesting to see if she and Japan will come out as winners in the third final meeting with the USA in the past four years.

Miyama (no. 8) will hope to avenge Japan's 2012 Olympic loss by again beating the USA in their second straight final

Megan Rapinoe - Will she celebrate her big day by winning a World Cup final?

Sunday, July 5th will be a special day for team USA, but also a unique one for star midfielder Megan Rapinoe as she will celebrate her 30th birthday. At this tournament, Rapinoe can definitely stake her claim to being one of the team's most influential players. One could hear the collective groan going around the United States when she was suspended for her team's clash with China, and without her creative spark, the two-time World Cup winners did struggle to break down a side keen on putting players behind the ball and waiting for an opportunity to counter attack.

It was her brace against Australia that bailed them out after forwards Wambach and Sydney Leroux failed to assert themselves. It was her assist for Wambach that dispatched the Nigerians and sealed their spot at the top of Group D. And it was her pace and trickery that drew a foul from Colombia in the box for Carli Lloyd to secure a berth in the quarter-finals.

Rapinoe will be counted on to provide a creative outlet for the USWNT vs. Japan on Sunday

Rapinoe's return to action for the semi-final clash with Germany could not have come at a better time. Although she was unable to score, she tormented defender Leonie Maier with her direct dribbling and fleet-footed nature and Japan will need to keep an eye on her as she hopes to enjoy her birthday with a World Cup winner's medal around her neck.

Celia Šašić - Hoping to keep up a trend going back to 1999

As things stand, Germany's Celia Šašić is the tournament's top goalscorer and looks set to clinch the Golden Shoe with six goals and one assist. However, this World Cup has been one of personal highs and lows for the Frankfurt attacker. Against France, she easily converted from the spot to force the game to extra-time and penalties and had no trouble doing it again as Germany edged out their European opponents for a spot in the semi-finals.

Yet, against the USWNT, the previously unflappable attacker shockingly missed the target entirely, and became the first ever German player to be unable to score from 12 yards out in a World Cup. It would prove costly as her team would go on to lose 2-0 and see their final aspirations disappear down the drain.

Šašić is currently the top goalscorer with six goals and will hope to get back on track against England

Šašić won the UEFA Champions League earlier this year with Frankfurt, but has yet to win a World Cup with Germany at senior level despite having been part of their victorious sides in 2009 and 2013 at the UEFA Euro tournament. Unfortunately, she will have to hope that Germany will have better luck four years from now in France, but could still take home two personal titles as well as a third-placed medal should they beat the Three Lionesses later today.

She will become the fifth woman to win the Golden Ball as well as the Golden Shoe should she beat the seven other candidates for this prize.

So, there we have it: the eight nominees for the Golden Ball. Who will win it? We will have to find out after the final on Sunday!


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