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With imagination to become a »cult hero« (nd-aktuell.de)

Unconventional enrichment: Andries Noppert lets Oranje celebrate.

Photo: imago/Sipa USA

There was a time when Andries Noppert was filled with a dream that was just beginning to take shape. As a child, like many little boys, he gave himself up to the beautiful fantasy of lifting the golden World Cup trophy into the night sky, says the 28-year-old goalkeeper of the Dutch national team ahead of this Friday’s quarter-finals against Argentina. Then he adds with a serious expression: »But if you see my career, you will know that I gave up this dream long ago.«

Up until this World Cup, Noppert had played neither an international game nor a European Cup game. Between 2019 and 2022 he was without a club several times, played in the second Italian division at Calcio Foggia and at the lower-class club Go Ahead Eagles in Holland, often sitting on the bench. In Italy it was said that this keeper smoked and drank too much. His parents advised him to train as a police officer. The thing with professional sports seemed to have no perspective. Now Noppert meets Lionel Messi on the biggest possible football stage and says about the world star: »He is the same as us. He’s human too.”

Noppert is sitting in a tent on the campus of Qatar University, with a muezzin calling in the background. Together with captain Virgil van Dijk, he answers journalists’ questions before the big duel. And the famous van Dijk seems to be listening to his colleague just as curiously as the journalists. For example, the 2.03 meter tall goalkeeper says: »There is only one bonds coach who could bring me here: that is our bonds coach.«

In fact, it is hard to imagine that a rational and conventional national coach like Hansi Flick would suddenly make a player with such a fragile biography a mainstay of his World Cup team. Justin Bijlow from Rotterdam was the favorite between the posts until the day before the first game. Louis van Gaal fielded Noppert from SC Heerenveen. In the 2-0 win against Senegal, he made 15 saves and van Gaal said: “I like to talk about the imagination, it helps the players. And today imagination helped him.«

Noppert is also an asset because unconventional types can do a professional group a lot of good. That’s why he feels particularly connected to the Bond coach, the two share the fate of being considered somewhat weird characters. He recognizes himself in the very self-confident and very idiosyncratic coach, says the goalkeeper. Van Gaal also sees similarities: Noppert has “a very open character, he is quite direct and doesn’t mince his words”.

Van Gaal’s decision to put a man in goal who only has the experience of 32 first division games is always idiosyncratic. This also hides a goalkeeping problem that Dutch football has been suffering from for a long time. This weakness writes a wonderful World Cup story. The newspaper »De Volkskrant« sees the potential for a »cult hero« in Noppert and says »people love its authenticity«. It remains to be seen whether the goalkeeper can actually cope with the pressure of a World Cup quarter-finals as well as he claims. Of the 90,000 people at Lusail’s stadium, 85,000 will be for Argentina. Noppert is also not interested in the fact that this game is a classic of world football: “Every game is the same: I’m in goal and have to catch balls.”

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