The story of the 28-year-old goalkeeper who made his World Cup debut after just 51 career matches

Almost 2 years ago, Andries Noppert didn’t know if he still had a career in football. Today, he is the starting goalkeeper of the Netherlands, who qualified for the round of 16 of the World Cup from first place in the group.

“There is only one coach in Holland who can make such a decision,” Noppert told The Guardian. He meant, of course, Louis van Gaal. The coach considered eccentric and difficult by most, but who is not afraid to make unpopular decisions. Ultimately, this pragmatic approach has brought him success over the years. Whenever he thought that a player was the right thing for the team, he bet on him without thinking and without caring who he left out. Noppert is the latest example that he has rarely been wrong.

That Noppert, a 28-year-old goalkeeper with just 51 professional caps, made the World Cup squad was a surprise anyway. When he appeared as a starter in the game against Senegal, it was completely unexpected. But the performance he had showed that van Gaal chose well. It is not easy to make your debut for the national team in an official match. Especially in a World Cup match. It is not easy to enter the gate that, in the past, was defended by names like Hans van Breukelen or Edwin van der Sar. “It was a special moment. You walk onto the field, you hear the anthem and it’s really special because it’s the first time. But then I had no emotions,” Nopper saidt.

And if he had emotions, they certainly didn’t show. Noppert looked as if he had always been there, in the goal of the national team. He kept his team in the game with a couple of crucial saves before fellow Premier League goalkeeper and Champions League winner Edouard Mendy made a crucial mistake at the end and Holland started the tournament in Qatar on a high (2- 0). Victory and clean sheet on debut at the World Cup. It couldn’t be better…

For the 2m-plus giant from Heerenveen, such a scenario seemed impossible at the end of 2020. After an unremarkable career which, after parting ways with his hometown team, took him to NAC Breda, Foggia, Dordrecht, Noppert found himself injured and without a team. His family advised him to consider giving up football to work in the police force. Then came the offer from Go Ahead Eagles in January 2021. He wasn’t a regular, but at least he had found a club. Which, at the end of the season, promoted to the Eredivise. Like any newly engaged, she didn’t have an easy mission, and the team’s situation wasn’t great. In this context, Noppert became a holder at the beginning of this year. He played 15 games, had solid performances and helped avoid relegation. His first club, Heerenveen, noticed him and brought him home. The circle was closing. Probably no one suspected that it would also be the beginning of a wonderful journey.

He returned to Heerenveen as a starter. And less than half a season was enough to convince van Gaal. He called him for the first time in September, more to feel the atmosphere. Then, the Dutch coach preferred to surprise and give Remko Pasveer, the 39-year-old Ajax veteran, his debut. Then he took him in the group of 26 for the World Cup. Not to be in the number, but to play as a starter.

“I found out on TV that I was going to the World Cup. I used to get the email received by all players in the party, but then you can stay out of the party. If it does, you get a phone call notifying you that you were not selected. But I didn’t get it and I was watching TV when my name was mentioned,” said Noppert.

In the two matches that followed the debut with Senegal, with Ecuador and Qatar, Noppert continued the safe performances that made him the starter for the national team. He finished the group with two clean sheets, which certainly helps his confidence even more. Not that he had missed it until now. “I want to be world champion,” he replied when asked what his goal was in Qatar.

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