When it comes to most sports, the men's version is more well known and has a better following. The same is the case with football.
Women's football has struggled to gain recognition. It got a late start due to the stigma associated with it in the olden days, and in some places, even to this day. Playing a rough contact sport was considered un-womanlike. However, much has changed over the last few decades of the 20th century.
The rapid growth of women's football
Famous football clubs have now created their own women's football teams, and football associations worldwide are creating domestic and international competitions. The most notable international tournament was the FIFA Women's World Cup of 1991, which was hosted in China.
After the success of the first World Cup, women's football started gaining considerable momentum and traction. It is a very lucrative sport, with cash-rich brands and sponsorships. Over the world, women's game has produced several legendary players. We take a look at five of the most exceptional players in this article:
#5 Sun Wen - China
Sun Wen, a legend in women's football, won seven regional championships with Shanghai SVA in China before joining Atlanta Beat in the United States in 2000. Her excellent shooting, vision, and an eye for the goal have helped her become one of the world's greatest international strikers.
A dynamic player, she could play as both an attacker and midfielder. Sun Wen was awarded both the Golden Boot (highest scorer) and the Golden Ball (best player) at the 1999 Women's World Cup. The tournament ended in heartbreak as China was narrowly defeated in the final by the United States on penalties.
Sun Wen was selected FIFA World Player of the Century in 2000, partnering Michelle Akers of the United States. She retired after China's shock World Cup defeat at the hands of Canada in 2003.
#4 Carolina Morace - Italy
Carolina Morace, Italy's best women's football player, made her international and Women's Serie A debuts when she was just 14 years old. She went on to win 12 league titles and score almost 500 goals for eight different clubs.
Morace was a deadly goalscorer. She finished second twice in the European Championships with Italy. After retiring, Morace took up coaching and became quite successful at it. She became the first female coach of an Italian men's professional team — Viterbese in Serie C — after retiring in 1999. Later, she became the head coach of the Italian women's national team.
She was the top-scorer in Serie A for a staggering 11 consecutive years, from 1987 to 1998. Morace has, without a doubt, established herself as one of the most outstanding women's football players of all time.
#3 Linda Medalen - Norway
Linda Medalen began her career as a striker, making her debut for Norway in 1987. She won the unofficial Women's Football World Cup in 1988 and the European Championships in 1993. She was Norway's leading scorer at the 1991 World Cup, netting six goals as the team finished second. The Norwegian was a five-time league champion and three-time cup winner for the Norwegian team Asker SKK.
Medalen shifted to defense as her career progressed, and her aerial skills and hard tackling helped Norway win the 1995 World Cup. They conceded only one goal in six games in that tournament. She competed in the 1999 competition but was unable to compete in the 2000 Olympics due to a knee injury.
Medalen also worked as a police officer and became a politician after retiring from football. She was also openly lesbian and her presence in football in the late 20th century sent a strong message against homophobia.
#2 Birgit Prinz - Germany
Birgit Prinz, Germany's top female footballer, is a towering center-forward who is as strong on the ground as in the air. She won the Women's Bundesliga, the German Cup, and the first UEFA Women's Cup with FFC Frankfurt in 2002.
Prinz subsequently relocated to the United States to play for the Carolina Courage. She scored 12 goals in 15 games to help her team win the WUSA championship. The German has won three European Championships, and in 2003, she scored seven goals to help her country win the World Cup. She also won the Golden Boot in that tournament.
Prinz was named FIFA World Women's Footballer of the Year in the same year, which she kept in 2004.
#1 Mia Hamm - USA
When talking about women's football, people mention the likes of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe as the greatest in the sport. However, the honor of greatest women's footballer has to go to Mia Hamm.
Ronaldo and Messi are mentioned in the same breath in a discussion about the greatest men's player. However, no name is great enough to be taken in the same breath as Hamm's when it comes to women's football.
She had a partial club foot from birth that required plaster casts to set right and went on to become the world's finest female footballer. When Hamm made her debut against China at the age of 15, she was the youngest player in the US women's football team's history. She was also the youngest member of the US squad that won the 1991 World Cup.
The Alabama native went on to compete in three more World Cups, capturing two gold and one silver medal at the Olympics. She was the leading scorer in the history of women's football internationally for a very long time.
Hamm is a great all-round player with an icy-cool finish. She was also a founding member of the WUSA, having joined the Washington Freedom in 2001.