Greatest women goalscorers set against the net of history

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The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada is a week old and the goals have been flying in, but how does the current generation of female forwards compare with those who helped inspire them to reach the heights they have?

To answer this question, we took a look at goals scored at World Cup and Olympic finals before filtering out penalties, and adjusting for the number of appearances made. In order to account for the possibility of one-hit wonders, only players making five or more appearances at this level are included.

These two tournaments were chosen since they fulfil two important requirements for a fair comparison between players: first, any team from any global region could theoretically qualify for either. And second, the qualification system ensures a relatively high standard of opposition in every match, unlike many of the regional international tournaments.

The analysis shows broadly three types of player. First are the all-round greats: players who consistently scored more than one goal every other game at the very highest level, including Germany’s recent retiree Birgit Prinz and the new record all-time World Cup goalscorer Marta, of Brazil.

Then we have players whose goalscoring feats benefited from their longevity, such as multiple world player of the year winner Mia Hamm, a key part of the US women’s teams at four World Cups and three Olympics.

Finally there are those who while prolific, saw their records curtailed by forces outside of their control. Norway’s Ann Kristin Aarønes scored a world leading 14 from 16 matches at the top level, but played her last international match aged 26, retiring soon after due to injury.

Meanwhile, Heidi Mohr and April Heinrichs were simply ahead of the game — the first women’s World Cup and Olympic football tournaments took place well into their prolific international goalscoring careers, limiting their opportunities to play and score in elite international competitions.

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