Playing at the World Cup is the pinnacle of any footballer’s career. The chance to represent one’s country in the biggest tournament is an opportunity that only comes around once every four years.

Sadly for some players, an unfortunately timed injury will keep them from realising this dream. Several high-profile players are missing from the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, while a number have picked up injuries at the tournament which has thrown their participation into doubt.

A spate of ACL injuries in particular has struck the women’s game in the past year, leading to calls for more to be done to protect players. Tournament heavyweights such as the United States and England will be without some of their best players due to this wave of knee injuries.



What is behind the ACL-injury epidemic ruling out Women’s World Cup stars?

Here are the biggest names who will be missing in Australia and New Zealand, starting with a trio of European champions, along with those who are nursing injuries picked up at the tournament…

Players at the tournament nursing injuries

Wendie Renard (France)

France captain Wendie Renard is an injury doubt for her country’s next game at the Women’s World Cup, the Group F clash against Brazil on Saturday.

Renard would be a huge loss for France (Photo: Getty Images)

Renard would be a huge loss for France (Photo: Getty Images)

Renard played 90 minutes in France’s disappointing World Cup opener against Jamaica, in which they drew 0-0, but sustained a calf injury during the contest. There is no indication yet of exactly how long the defender could be out for, but her participation in a match in three days’ time is in question.

France face a tough test against Brazil, who looked assured in their 4-0 dismantling of Panama in their opening game at the tournament.

After the Brazil match, France play Panama in their final group match next Wednesday.

Ada Hegerberg (Norway)

Ada Hegerberg was forced to pull out of the Norway starting XI moments before kick-off, ahead of her side’s match against Switzerland after suffering a groin injury in the warm up.

The Lyon striker was set to start Tuesday’s Women’s World Cup fixture and took part in the national anthems and team photo before heading down the tunnel on the stroke of kick-off.

She was replaced in the starting XI by Sophie Roman Haug.

Norway team doctor Trygve Hunemo confirmed Hegerberg sustained a bruised groin during the final sprint in the warm-up.

Hegerberg is a vital player for Norway (Photo: Getty Images)

Hegerberg is a vital player for Norway (Photo: Getty Images)

The forward later explained that the final warm up sprint in which she injured her groin took place immediately after the anthems, but suggested the decision to not play was a precautionary measure.



Ada Hegerberg: My Game in My Words

Sam Kerr (Australia)

Sam Kerr has been ruled out of Australia’s opening two World Cup fixtures with a calf injury.

The 29-year-old Chelsea striker, who had been expected to be the face of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, sustained the injury in training on Wednesday.

Kerr will miss her side’s opening match against the Republic of Ireland and Australia’s second group stage fixture against Nigeria on July 27. She will then be re-assessed by Australia’s medical team.

Jennyfer Limage (Haiti)

The Haiti midfielder screamed in pain after sustaining a knee injury during her team’s Women’s World Cup opener against England.

Limage, 25, received medical assistance and initially attempted to play on, but was forced off minutes later on a stretcher and screamed in pain as she left the pitch.

Mary Fowler and Aivi Luik (Australia)

Forward Mary Fowler and defender Aivi Luik suffered concussions in separate incidents in a training session on Tuesday, Football Australia said, with the duo ruled out of Thursday’s group stage game against Nigeria.

“Fowler and Luik have both fully recovered and commenced FA’s graduated return to play protocol,” the FA added in a statement.

Marina Hegering and Lena Oberdorf (Germany)

Germany also have two injuries to contend with. Defender Marina Hegering and midfielder Lena Oberdorf both picked up problems ahead of the tournament and missed their nation’s opening game against Morocco, which they won 6-0.

Oberdorf missed Germany’s opening match of the tournament (Photo: Getty Images)

Oberdorf missed Germany’s opening match of the tournament (Photo: Getty Images)

Players ruled out of the tournament

Beth Mead,England

Mead played a vital role in leading England to their first major women’s championship last summer. Named Player of the Tournament by UEFA, she co-led the competition with six goals while also contributing five assists.

The forward ruptured her ACL while playing for Arsenal in November. She said in May that her recovery was “ahead of schedule”, but being fit in time to play in the World Cup proved to be a bridge too far.

England will surely miss the player who finished second in Ballon D’or voting last year.

Leah Williamson, England

Another player crucial to England’s win on home soil last summer, Williamson played every minute of Euro 2022. She joined Mead on UEFA’s Team of the Tournament.

Williamson was injured while on Arsenal duty (Photo: Getty Images)

Williamson was injured while on Arsenal duty (Photo: Getty Images)

Unfortunately for Williamson, she also joined Mead in rupturing her ACL, doing so while playing for the same club Arsenal in April. The centre-back has been the Lionesses’ captain since April 2022 but has not joined her team-mates on the pitch in Australia and New Zealand.

Millie Bright, another central defender who recently suffered a knee injury, will fill in for her as captain at the World Cup. Bright said that her injury actually allowed her some much-needed time to rest ahead of the tournament. “I can’t remember the last time I had longer than two weeks off,” Bright said. “It’s been a fair few years now. Not the injury but otherwise it has been a blessing in disguise that I’ve been able to have a clean slate.”



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Fran Kirby, England

Kirby contributed two goals and three assists as an attacking midfielder at last summer’s Euros. She too suffered a knee injury that required surgery, going down while playing for Chelsea in February.

This isn’t the first time that Kirby’s World Cup availability has been curtailed by health problems. She also missed three knockout-stage matches during the 2015 tournament after suffering an injury.

Kirby may be five years removed from her performance as the Women’s Super League’s player of the year, but England still would have loved to have Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer at their disposal this summer.

Mallory Swanson, United States

The U.S. already faced a tall order seeking their third straight World Cup title this summer, but the task only got harder when they lost their hottest goalscorer. Swanson had scored in six straight international matches (eight total goals) prior to the one in which she tore her patella tendon in April.

Will the USWNT struggle for goals without Swanson? (Photo: Getty Images)

Will the USWNT struggle for goals without Swanson? (Photo: Getty Images)

That streak included her dominant performance at this year’s SheBelieves Cup. Swanson was named the tournament’s MVP after becoming the first player to score in all three of her team’s matches in the competition. She scored four of the USWNT’s five goals, doing so against three teams ranked in the top 11 globally — Canada, Brazil and Japan.

The injury is a bitter blow to the 25-year-old forward, whose career has already experienced such ups and downs. Swanson was a youth phenomenon, debuting for the national team at the age of 17 and becoming the youngest player ever to score for the U.S. at the Olympics in 2016. She made three appearances in the 2019 World Cup but was left out of the squad that contested the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 due to both performance and injuries.

She credited that setback with helping her to find her game again, saying it was “one of the best things that could happen to my career”. How cruel for this injury to occur just as she was ready to perform on the biggest stage.



Without Mallory Swanson, USWNT must recalibrate its attack

Catarina Macario, United States

Macario has been recovering from an ACL injury for over a year now, but announced in May that she wouldn’t be ready in time to play in the World Cup. She suffered her injury in Lyon’s last match of the 2021-22 season, just 11 days after she had scored in their Champions League final victory over Barcelona.

USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said in February that he expected her to return to action for Lyon in March and for the national team in April, but her recovery hasn’t gone to plan.

Playing as both a forward and an attacking midfielder, Macario recently transferred to Chelsea after missing the entire 2022-23 season.

Sam Mewis, United States

Mewis was a key player for the U.S. a few years ago but the midfielder has had a brutal run of injury luck since. She scored two goals and co-led the team with three assists at the 2019 World Cup, was named the 2020 U.S. Soccer Female Player Of The Year, and appeared in all six matches at the Olympics in 2021 as the USWNT took bronze.

After the Tokyo Games, Mewis underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee. She returned to make three appearances for club and country in the spring of 2022 but has not played since, undergoing another surgery on the same knee in January of this year. “I don’t have a timeline for return to soccer,” she said after this latest operation. The Kansas City Current do not expect her to return to action before the end of the NWSL season, which runs until October.

Becky Sauerbrunn, United States

Sauerbrunn’s story is quite different from Mewis’. The 38-year-old centre-back played for the Portland Thorns as recently as June 3, but misses the World Cup due to a lingering foot injury. “I had hoped and worked and hoped some more to make it back in time to help lead the team at this World Cup, but after lots of discussion, unfortunately, there’s just too much variability in my return to play timeline,” she said.

Sauerbrunn only narrowly missed out on a place at the tournament (Photo: Getty Images)

Sauerbrunn only narrowly missed out on a place at the tournament (Photo: Getty Images)

Sauerbrunn, who has been serving her second stint as USWNT captain since January 2021, ranks ninth all-time in team history with 216 caps. She has played at three World Cup tournaments and three Olympic Games. When the U.S. won back-to-back World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019, she played every minute except for the 13-0 win over Thailand four years ago.

While Sauerbrunn’s experience will not be easy to replace, Lindsey Horan and Alex Morgan will serve as the USWNT’s captains for the tournament. Horan will wear the armband when the two players are on the field at the same time.



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Abby Dahlkemper, United States

If healthy, Dahlkemper may have helped fill in for Sauerbrunn in central defence. The 30-year-old was one of only two U.S. players, along with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, to start every match at the 2019 World Cup. She last played in September 2022, suffering a back injury that required surgery.

Christen Press, United States

Another of the USWNT’s two-time world champions, Press ranks ninth in team history with 64 goals. She played in all seven matches in the 2019 tournament.

The 34-year-old tore her ACL in June 2022 and has undergone three surgeries since. In May she told ESPN: “I’m in the final stretch of my recovery. I’m starting to feel like myself again, getting my body back. Hopefully I’ll be joining the team soon.”

When the World Cup roster was announced on June 21 however, she was not on it.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto, France

Another prominent female footballer who suffered a ruptured ACL, Katoto has not played since suffering her injury during the group stage of Euro 2022. She was forced to watch from the sidelines as France fell to Germany in the semi-finals.

The 24-year-old forward announced that she would miss the World Cup in May. It was a bitter blow for a player who had surprisingly been left out of France’s 2019 World Cup squad due to a conflict with coach Corinne Diacre. Alongside captain Wendie Renard, Katoto was central in a player’s movement that forced the firing of Diacre earlier this year.

Without Katoto, who is Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time record goalscorer and has led the Division 1 Feminine in scoring three times, France will need to look elsewhere for goals.



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Delphine Cascarino, France

Cascarino could have helped fill Katoto’s void if she were healthy, but the forward suffered the same injury, rupturing her ACL while playing for Lyon in May.

The 26-year-old has been a regular for France at major tournaments in recent years. She appeared in all five games in the 2019 World Cup as her nation reached the quarter-finals, and did the same at Euro 2022 as they reached the semi-finals. France would have benefited from the presence of another one of Lyon’s serial Champions league winners this summer.

Amandine Henry, France

A late addition to this list, Henry was ruled out of appearing in the World Cup earlier this month after suffering a calf injury. She had been recalled to France’s squad for the first time since 2020 by the team’s new manager Herve Renard.

Henry had been recalled to France’s squad (Photo: Getty Images)

Henry had been recalled to France’s squad (Photo: Getty Images)

The 33-year-old Angel City midfielder has been capped 93 times by France. At the 2015 World Cup, she was awarded the Silver Ball as the tournament’s second-best player. Henry is also a seven-time Champions League winner with Lyon.

She was replaced by defender Aissatou Tounkara in France’s squad.

Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands

Just weeks after Mead ruptured her ACL in November while playing for Arsenal, her club team-mate suffered the same fate. Miedema’s absence will be sorely felt by the Dutch, as she is the country’s all-time record scorer with 95 goals.

The 26-year-old forward has been vital to her nation’s success in major tournaments for some time. When the Netherlands won Euro 2017 on home soil, she won the Silver Boot after scoring in all three knockout rounds including a pair of goals in the final. At the 2019 World Cup, she was named to FIFA’s team of the tournament as the Dutch reached the final. And at the Tokyo Games, she set an women’s Olympic record with 10 goals, scoring in all four of her country’s matches.

At last summer’s Euros however, Miedema missed two matches with Covid-19, returning for the Netherlands’ loss to France in the quarter-finals. This summer, the Dutch will have to play without their star for the whole tournament.



Miedema, Mead and Putellas: Why are there so many ACL injuries in the women’s game?

Janine Beckie, Canada

When Canada won their first Olympic gold medal in women’s football two years ago, Beckie was one of just three players that started all six of their matches. After helping the Portland Thorns win the 2022 NWSL Championship, she too suffered a torn ACL, going down in a pre-season match in March.

Facing a long recovery like so many others on this list, Beckie cited the stricken Arsenal stars — Mead, Williamson and Miedema — as she questioned why ACL injuries have been so frequent in women’s football. “I do believe that if the same thing happened even with Arsenal’s men’s side with probably their three best players, that should be enough for a: ‘Why is this happening? Look into this,’” she told Reuters in April.

“I think that a lot of people have boiled it down for so long to ‘Oh, it’s just more common in women, and a common injury in women’s soccer.’ But it seems like there’s been this massive jump in the amount that it’s happening now. I don’t know what the reason is but someone needs to figure it out.”



ACL injuries in women’s football: Why the high risk and can they be prevented?

**Giulia Gwinn, Germany **

Along with Mead and Williamson, Gwinn is the third player on this list who was named to UEFA’s Team of the Tournament at last summer’s Euros. She started all seven matches in that competition as Germany reached the final.

Just 24 years old, Gwinn is already recovering from the second ACL tear of her career, the most recent occurring in October 2022. Typically deployed as a right-back, the defender played every minute for Germany in the 2019 World Cup, winning FIFA’s award for Best Young Player.

When leaving Gwinn out of this summer’s World Cup squad, Germany head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said doing so “was the most difficult decision to make” but explained “we made this decision with the future in mind”.

Katie Rood, New Zealand

The World Cup is in New Zealand for the first time, but Rood will not be able to represent her country. The reason is a familiar one.

“I’m sad to say that I’ve joined the ever-growing ACL club,” the forward said in May after suffering the injury while playing for Scottish club Hearts.

Rood has scored five goals in 15 career appearances for the national team, earning her most recent cap in 2021. She has never played in the World Cup.

(Top photo: Getty Images)