- Cosafa media
Barbra Banda (Zambia)
If Zambia spring a surprise this summer, it's likely that Barbra Banda will be crucial to it.
After establishing herself as an exciting young forward in Spain, scoring 15 goals in 28 games for a Logrono side that were battling relegation when she got there, Banda moved to China and still hasn't stopped scoring.
The 21-year-old, who is already captain of her country, was the Chinese Women's Super League's topscorer in 2020, netting 18 goals, and scored in Zambia's most recent friendly – a 2-1 win over Chile in November.
Described by U.S. women's national team boss Vlatko Andonovski as "one of the best players in the world", and ranking at No.9 in last year's Goal 50, Debinha is very special.
A two-time NWSL champion, named the Most Valuable Player in the Championship game in 2019, the North Carolina Courage star has the ability to create chances, make the runs to be on the receiving end of those killer passes herself, or produce something out of nothing to win a game.
Brazil have improved defensively under head coach Pia Sundhage and in a player like Debinha, they have the catalyst to make their attack a serious problem for opponents in Japan as well.
Christiane Endler (Chile)
Widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Christiane Endler is Chile's star.
Named in the FIFPro World XI last year, she has just finished a sensational season with Paris Saint-Germain, helping them to win the French league for the first time with an incredible 19 clean sheets in 22 games. Such contributions also won her the division's goalkeeper of the year award.
Endler, who has since completed a transfer to seven-time European champions Lyon, will be crucial for Chile this summer too, as she's likely to be called into action a little more than she is at club level, such is the underdog status of her nation.
Abby Erceg (New Zealand)
Abby Erceg may not be a household name, but she is one of New Zealand’s most decorated footballers. She has won three NWSL Championships and was named the league’s defender of the year in 2018.
The first player of any gender to reach 100 caps for her country, she has vast experience too, having played at seven major tournaments already.
Erceg’s presence will be as important as ever this summer, too. Rebekah Stott, so often alongside her at centre-back, will sadly miss the Games after being diagnosed with blood cancer.
With her experience and character absent, Erceg’s role as a leader will be even more important as the Football Ferns set about navigating a very tough group.
Hanna Glas (Sweden)
Hanna Glas stepped into the limelight last season, particularly with her performances in the Champions League for Bayern Munich. The full-back's form led to her club coach, Jens Scheuer, labelling her “one of the best right-backs in the world”.
“I see how dynamic she is, how secure she is in her passing, but also how dangerous she can be in our attacking game,” he said.
Glas helped Bayern win their first league title in five years with those qualities, while also reaching the semi-finals in Europe.
This summer, she’ll hope to help Sweden scale similar heights, having missed her country's silver medal-winning campaign at Rio 2016.
Lauren Hemp (Great Britain)
Lauren Hemp may only be 20 years old but she’s already firmly established herself as an important player at Manchester City.
After missing the first half of last season with an injury, head coach Gareth Taylor raved about the boost her return had given the whole team – and Hemp certainly went about making up for lost time. After making her first appearance of the season in December, she scored six goals and registered eight assists in 15 games.
That form helped the winger claim the PFA Women's Young Player of the Year award for an incredible third time, as well as securing her place on the plane to Tokyo for what will be her first senior major tournament.
Lindsey Horan (United States)
Involved in 55 goals in her 98 caps to date, Lindsey Horan provides the U.S. women's national team with a serious attacking threat in midfield. However, her contributions in Japan this summer may be a little different.
Julie Ertz is one of the USWNT's most important players, often described as the side's glue in her holding midfield role. But with her nursing an injury going into the tournament, it could be Horan's responsibility to fill a crucial void.
How she takes to that role could be significant in whether her nation take home gold – and if Ertz recovers to relieve her of the defensive duties mid-tournament, there is no doubt that Horan will make the most of her freedom.
Mana Iwabuchi (Japan)
When Mana Iwabuchi joined Aston Villa in January, it was seen as a massive coup for the newly-promoted Women's Super League side.
In their battle against relegation, the Japanese international provided the creative spark, scoring and assisting both goals in a 2-2 draw with Reading and firing an absolute rocket into the top corner in a 1-0 win over Tottenham. Those contributions accounted for four points and Villa stayed up by three.
After switching to Arsenal this summer, the fleet-footed Iwabuchi is now ready to shine on home soil at the Olympics.
As a World Cup winner in 2011 and an Olympic silver medallist in 2012, she has the experience to help her country succeed, and with six goals and five assists in her last five games for Japan, she's in incredible form.
Kim Little (Great Britain)
Once described by legendary U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo as "the most talented player I have ever played with", Kim Little will be a very important cog in this Great Britain side.
The midfielder is one of three non-English players representing Team GB and will be one of their three captains at the Games too, such is her leadership.
Little missed part of this past season with Arsenal, but ended the campaign with two goals in her last three games. The second of those, a last-minute penalty to snatch a 2-1 win over Everton, secured Champions League football for the Gunners.
However, it's her creativity and ability to control games that make her so special – qualities that Great Britain will hope can help them become a force this summer in their quest for a medal.
Sam Kerr (Australia)
After winning the WSL Golden Boot with 21 goals in 22 games, Sam Kerr will be a front-runner for the accolade at this summer's Games.
The 27-year-old has been on fire in all competitions for WSL champions Chelsea – bagging a hat-trick in their Continental Cup final win in March while also scoring three goals in her first UEFA Women's Champions League campaign.
She hasn't scored yet in the five games since Tony Gustavsson took the Australia job, but with the Matildas having improved massively in those games, especially defensively, the platform is there now for Kerr, scorer of four goals in five games in qualifying, to shine on one of the game's grandest stages.
Marta might be widely regarded as the greatest player ever to grace the women's game, but, at 35 years old, she is running out of chances to call herself a world champion.
Part of the generation that helped Brazil reach the finals at the 2004 Olympics, 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics, a lack of investment stopped the team from getting their hands on one of the big prizes.
However, Marta is still around today, still shining and a key member of squad that, under the guidance of Pia Sundhage, a two-time gold medal winner as a coach, has much more depth.
Can she finally get the prize her talent deserves?
Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands)
There is no player in the women's game quite like Vivianne Miedema.
Blending together the roles of a goal-scoring No.9 and a creative No.10, she has established herself as one of the most feared forwards in the world, becoming the WSL's all-time topscorer last year at just 24 years old.
With the Netherlands, her numbers are equally ridiculous: 73 goals in 96 caps, making her the country's all-time record goalscorer.
She helped this Dutch side win the Euros in 2017 and reach the World Cup final in 2019. This summer, having just become the first player in WSL history to score 15 or more goals in three successive seasons, she'll be integral to further success.
Christen Press (United States)
The world may not have seen Christen Press at her very best at club level this past season, with a long time out through illness limiting her to just 12 starts and four goals at Manchester United, but she is certainly reaching the levels we know she is capable of with her country right now.
The 32-year-old has five goals and four assists for the USWNT in 2021 and looks set to be a starter in Japan this summer, having made five of her seven appearances at the 2019 World Cup as a substitute.
Despite that limited role two years ago, she still scored in the 2-1 win over England in the semi-finals. The prospect of what she could do at Tokyo 2020, in this form and with more opportunities, is beyond exciting.
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Christine Sinclair (Canada)
At 38 years old, this is almost certain to be Christine Sinclair's final Olympic Games. The forward currently holds many records in the event's women's football tournament, including most goals in a single campaign, as well as two bronze medals.
There are still plenty of records she can chase down too, including the all-time topscorer title, to match the one she holds in international football for a male or female player.
But her sights will be firmly set on the team goal of achieving a different colour medal. Canada have looked defensively solid under new coach Bev Priestman but seem to be lacking attacking potency, despite the talent available.
Sinclair will hope to help rectify that in Japan, and will be key in them doing so.
Wang Shuang (China)
Wang Shuang is one of her nation's most talented players, but opportunities to showcase that on the biggest stage haven't come easily.
At the 2015 World Cup, she was used as a substitute due to a small injury. Four years later, China disappointed, scoring one goal in the group stages before going out in the round of 16.
The Steel Roses will hope to put on a better showing this summer and, should they do so, Wang will be at the heart of it.
In the team's Olympic qualifying play-off against South Korea, the midfielder netted the winner in the first leg before scoring the goal in extra time in the second leg that secured China's ticket to Tokyo.
She has shown Europe glimpses of what she is capable of in the past, scoring seven goals in a short spell with Paris Saint-Germain in 2018-19. This summer, she'll hope to show the world that talent.