The Stars of Germany 2011 (that's the women's world cup)
Law degrees, modest salaries, an England team that might just win it...Jonathan Brown on the 11 names to remember when a very different football showcase kicks off tomorrow
Saturday 25 June 2011
The intellectual: Eniola Aluko
While some are impressed by Frank Lampard's Latin GCSE, the bright spark scoring goals for the England women's team sets a higher standard.
Aluko has a first-class law degree from Brunel University and sees no contradiction in mixing brains and boots: "I was put on this earth to play football and for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a lawyer." Born in Nigeria, raised in Birmingham, the 24-year-old lives in the US, where she plays for New Jersey's Sky Blue FC and hopes to build up a sports entertainment law practice when she retires. No wonder England are fourth favourites for the trophy.
The hero: Kelly Smith
England's best-known woman player was made an MBE in 2008 and enjoys respect both in and out of the game. She battled against injury and the menaces of depression and drink with the help of the Sporting Chance clinic founded by the former England captain Tony Adams after he conquered his own problems. Smith made a welcome return to the highest level of the game but fell foul of the authorities when she called English women's football as a "joke". Aged 32, she plays for Boston Breakers in the US.
The tough girl: Abby Wambach
Dispelling myths that the woman's game lacks the Vinnie Jones factor, Abby Wambach, the youngest of seven siblings, recalls how her brothers would fire ice-hockey pucks at her to use her for target practice when she was growing up in New York. Today, at the age of 31, she is the face of the US team, its most physical and imposing player, and second-top scorer.
The golden girl: Jessica Landstrom
While five members of the German under-20 team recently posed for Playboy, the sport's original pin-up was – and still is – Swedish striker Jessica Landström. But while one imagines that marketing deals and goals would add up to riches, her salary would perhaps not impress David Beckham. Although she is among the sport's top earners, her then record-breaking deal to join Swedish club Linköpings amounted to $3,000 a month. The 26-year-old's private life is the subject of intense internet speculation, where she regularly tops polls for the game's "hottest star". Since she plays in Germany for the Frauen-Bundesliga team 1.FFC Frankfurt, she can be assured of more attention over the next month.
The villain: Birgit Prinz
For years, England's men's team were haunted by the beguiling skills of Diego "Hand of God" Maradona. The Three Lionesses, meanwhile, must contend with their own nemesis in the guise of Germany's most-capped player, who is a household name back home. Prinz, 33, is a physical therapist with a degree from Frankfurt University. She scored twice to help to crush England 6-2 in the Euro 2009 final.
The tough girl II: Faye White
England skippers of all kinds have long enjoyed a lionheart tradition. Faye White is no exception, proving time and again her right to sport the captain's armband. During the course of her career, she has suffered cruciate ligament damage in both knees and has had her nose broken four times while serving the national side. But the 31-year-old is pragmatic. "If you're playing at the highest level, you have to be competitive. This means, at times, aggression," she says. She insists she will carry on regardless, adding: "Pain is only temporary and I can take that. You don't get this far and wimp out."
The special one: Marta Vieira da Silva
Proving that the women's game is doomed to be defined by comparison to the men's, Marta Vieira da Silva is often dubbed "Pele in a skirt". In the tradition of great Brazilian footballers, she is known by one name, "Marta", and is the leading exponent in scoring spectacular goals. A five-times Fifa World Player of the Year and winner of the coveted Ballon d'Or, the 25-year-old frequently draws comparisons with Lionel Messi. Vieira da Silva finished top scorer at the 2007 World Cup with seven goals.
The especially controversial one: Genoveva Añonma
Even with all its superinjunctions, the men's game has never courted a controversy such as this. "I am fast and strong, but I know that I am definitely a woman," the Equatorial Guinea skipper explained after rivals from Nigeria alleged that she was in fact a man – one of three it was claimed the tiny African nation fielded last year. A gender test proved Añonma was indeed a woman and, as if to confirm matters, she was included in Esquire magazine's Sexiest Woman Alive Atlas.
The male WAG: Adam Feeley
The Habs (Husbands and Boyfriends) are not a phenomenon the women's sport knows, but there is one superstar in his own right cheering from the touchline. Adam Feeley, an NFL quarterback with the St Louis Rams, supports his wife Heather Mitts, a defender for the US team and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Feeley's on-off relationship with Mitts, voted ESPN.com's Hottest Female Athlete, delighted sports fans and US tabloids alike. They married last February.
The bisexual trailblazer: Nadine Angerer
As the men's game struggles with the issue of homosexuality, Germany's veteran goalkeeper Nadine Angerer broke the women's sport's own taboo last year by revealing that she was bisexual. "I am very open about this, because I am of the opinion there are nice guys and nice women," she told Die Zeit. "Besides, I find it totally silly to have a general definition." The 32-year-old is now hoping to win her third World Cup with the national team.
The psychic cephalopod: Lola the Octopus
After last year's psychic success from Paul the Octopus, who "predicted" all seven of his country's results in the men's World Cup, the hunt has been on for a suitable replacement for the women's version of the event. Already described as "intelligent" and a "fast learner", Lola has been exciting German hopes of similarly prescient powers from her tank in the Munich Sea Life Centre.
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