Davy Propper scored his first international goals against Bulgaria last month
Brighton midfielder was first called up four years ago
Netherlands face Belarus and Sweden in final World Cup qualifying Group A games
A team coach makes its way to the outskirts of Genk in Belgium. Perhaps an odd place to start a story, but this is where the tale of Davy Propper’s international career - so far - begins. The then Vitesse Arnhem man was sat amongst Oranje colleagues on the way to a senior international match for the first time, back in November 2013. Louis van Gaal had given Propper his first call-up, and the midfielder was waiting to arrive at the stadium to face Japan.
He remained on the bench for that friendly, and he was not summoned to grace the pitch three days later against Colombia in Amsterdam either. Propper would have to continue waiting.
In June 2015, on the cusp of a big move to PSV Eindhoven from Vitesse, Propper made his international debut against USA, called from the bench by Guus Hiddink as the Dutch were defeated 4-3. The wait for a first start, and win, for Propper would go on.
Another year passed, and Propper rose from the bench again, against Greece in September 2016. His patience was to be further rewarded the following month. He came off the bench for his first competitive appearance – that first win arrived too – in the Netherlands’ 4-1 demolition of Belarus in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. He started the defeat to France three days later and then he was made to be patient once more for competitive football.
That tale of Propper’s stop-start international career to date brings us to the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers. Left on the bench against France last month, the Dutch were dismantled in a 4-0 defeat. Dick Advocaat shuffled his deck. And Propper - now an English Premier League player after an off-season move to Brighton - seized his chance from the start.
“To score for your national team, especially your first goal, it’s fantastic,” Propper told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
Just seven minutes into a must-win game for Advocaat’s side against Bulgaria, Propper popped up with his first international goal, almost four years after that coach ride in Genk. And then, another.
“It was a little bit surprising!” Propper laughed, recalling his second international goal which saw his brace sandwich Arjen Robben and Georgi Kostadinov’s strikes to seal a 3-1 victory. “I haven’t scored two goals too many times in my career. It was a great feeling. The crowd were amazing.”
Despite starting just twice in World Cup qualifying so far, Propper has been a steady presence in the Dutch squad. His graduation to a regular in the squad has coincided with an unhappy time for the Dutch however.
“The qualifiers haven’t gone very well of course,” Propper admitted. “We drew against Sweden when we should have won, and the games against France were difficult of course. We lost another game away in Bulgaria and I think that was the key moment up until now.”
“The last couple of games, the feeling was good though. We still have confidence that we’ll go through. The next games will be very important for us.”
Those matches are away at bottom side Belarus and, in what could prove to be a decisive game, against current second-placed side Sweden.
“I think they will be quite defensive teams,” Propper said. “Especially the last game against Sweden where we have to win. They have a big goal difference so that will be a challenging game for us.”
Propper's patience 16/11/13: On the bench against Japan 05/06/15: Debut v USA off the bench (4-3 loss) 07/10/16: WCQ debut v Belarus. First win (4-1 win) 10/10/16: First start v France (1-0 loss) 03/09/17: First goals v Bulgaria (3-1 win)
Advocaat, in his third spell as Dutch coach after taking charge in the 1990s and 2000s, is Propper’s fourth Netherlands boss in as many years.
“With Advocaat, there’s no looking back to the past,” Propper said. “He’s focusing on the here and now. We are still in the race to qualify, that’s the important thing.”
The here and now is a good place to be for Propper. In the immediate future, the starting XI in the upcoming games would perhaps be just reward for his two-goal show, after his long wait for an opportunity.
“It’s not for me to say I think,” Propper said coyly. “We will see what happens.”
The most important question is the final one. Will the Netherlands be at the next World Cup?
“We will get there.”
It seems Propper is impatient for just one thing: a ticket to Russia 2018.