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Euro 2022: What's it like to be a backup goalkeeper?

Matt Pearson Chester, England
July 13, 2022

Unheralded and unused, backup goalkeepers don't play in the spotlight. But for Daphne van Domselaar, of the Netherlands, that changed in an instant. DW talked to her, and others, about what it’s like to be second choice.

Daphne Van Domselaar in goal for the Netherlands
Daphne Van Domselaar's entry as a substitute on Saturday was only her second international appearanceImage: Ludvig Thunman/Bildbyran/IMAGO

It's a truism of football that preparation is crucial. Each training session, each sleep, each meal, is another step towards peak performance on matchday. But what if all that work leads to sitting on the bench watching a teammate do the thing you've dedicated your life to learning?

Sweden's backup, Chelsea keeper Zecira Musovic, told DW that it's important to draw the lines between internal competition and external support.

"I do everything to give myself the opportunity to be the best," she said at Sweden's training base in Chester, in England's northwest. "My goalkeeping companions around me are both really good keepers and I see them as colleagues and competitors because we're going for the same position.

"But I think in training we compete and then whoever plays the game we support each other and I think we have a really good goalkeeper union. We support each other by challenging each other."

A rare chance

Until Musovic's side played the Netherlands in Sheffield on Saturday, only one keeper had come off the bench in the last three Euros tournaments (2022, 2017 and 2013), Siobhan Chamberlain replacing Karen Bardsley in goal for England in their 2017 quarterfinal win against France. That's 64 matches where a substitute keeper has had to prepare as if they'll play while knowing it's almost certain they won't. But only almost.

Daphne Van Domselaar of Netherlands replaces the injured Sari Van Veenendaal in Euro 2022
Daphne Van Domselaar (left) took on words of wisdom from the player she replaced in the Netherlands' openerImage: Simon Bellis/Sportimage/IMAGO

"It was really quick," said Netherlands backup Daphne van Domselaar of the moment she replaced first-choice keeper and captain Sari van Veenendaal in the 22nd minute of the 1-1 draw between the two Group C favorites.

"At first only [defenders] Lynn [Wilms] and Stefanie [Van der Gragt] laid on the ground and then, after a few seconds, Sari went down. In that moment, I had to go and warm up and then after what felt to me like two seconds, I stood there on the field. So I had no time to be nervous."

No matter the level of professionalism, backup keepers are even more aware than most that the likelihood of them appearing at a tournament is slim. But van Domselaar said there was only encouragement when she and van Veenendaal crossed on the touchline: "She just wanted to give me some comfort. She just said 'Do your thing, I know you can do it, be calm and just enjoy.'"

Injuries aside, swapping the person between the sticks is incredibly rare, and the woman at the other end was full of admiration for van Domselaar's performance in the 1-1 draw.

"I wanted to go up and congratulate her for making her debut in the tournament," Atletico Madrid's 187-cap veteran Hedvig Lindahl told DW of her opposite number. "I think she did great, she came in and just took the chance."

Difficult position

Shortly after the game, the Dutch FA announced that van Veenendaal would miss the entire tournament, which head coach Mark Parsons described as "terrible news" for the squad. But, as Lindahl alluded to, it's also a huge opportunity for her replacement. Taking advantage of a close colleague's misfortune remains the most likely path to personal accomplishment for all tournament reserves, but particularly keepers.

Almuth Schult raises her hands in action for Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg's Almuth Schult has had to become accustomed to being second in line for GermanyImage: Michaela Merk/IMAGO

That duality; supporting the team and the number one while knowing your chance can only come at her expense is the tightrope backups must walk. It's impossible and improper to openly admit that it's obvious you want to play. Keeping up morale and hoping, outwardly at least, to stay on the bench in order to facilitate success is a strange line to have to take. But Germany's backup, veteran Almuth Schult, is another who has to exist in this strange space.

"I want to make the coach's decision as difficult as possible," she said before the tournament, while also accepting that: "I'll do whatever it takes to ensure that this team has a successful tournament, and win the cup."

Ultimately, that's the balance all backups must strike. For van Domselaar, the moment she both hoped for and against has happened. She's the new number one for the defending champions.