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Goalkeeper Evrard giving Belgium their bounce

Nicky Evrard has a sideline renting out bouncy castles, but on the pitch the goalkeeper has proved an immovable object in Belgium's run.

Nicky Evrard leads the celebrations in Manchester after victory against Italy
Nicky Evrard leads the celebrations in Manchester after victory against Italy UEFA via Getty Images

Goalkeeper Nicky Evrard has played a huge role in Belgium reaching their first UEFA Women's EURO quarter-final, and she has young fans back home bouncing both metaphorically and literally.

Sweden vs Belgium: Live build-up

Understudy to Justien Odeurs during Belgium's finals debut five years ago, Evrard later became Ives Serneels' first choice and her performances against Iceland, France and Italy here have underlined her qualities, not least by saving penalties in both of Belgium's first two Group D games, before her clean sheet in the 1-0 defeat of Italy that sent the Red Flames through.

Highlights: Italy 0-1 Belgium

Perhaps it is in the blood. Evrard comes from a family of footballers, having accompanied her father to his matches from the age of five, when he was still playing for Racing Strijpen, later the club where she began her youth career. Playing football was something she was brought up with.

However, although it was always her ambition, it isn't her full-time living. Like most of her home-based Belgium squad-mates, Evrard is semi-professional, having earlier this month joined Leuven from Gent after previously playing in the Netherlands and Spain. She not only keeps goal, she also rents out bouncy castles.

"Just before COVID hit, we tried to organise sports or football camps," Evrard said. "These included a bouncy castle for the little brothers and sisters who were coming along to the camp. When we wanted to buy one, the seller surprised me by asking if I would be interested in taking over his business.

Team-mates: Belgium

"I had to think about that for a moment. Look, I can live off my football because I still live with my parents and have few fixed costs. But I still want financial stability. And on days off and during the holidays I need something to keep me busy. I can't play FIFA all the time. I am also an entrepreneur. So I took the plunge.

"Initially, there were six bouncy castles, but now there are nine. I also have ground sheets, trollies for transporting the castles, and devices for inflating them. Soon my brother will be joining the business."

Unlike when Belgium's win against Italy was confirmed, there is no relief at the final whistle. "When you go somewhere with a bouncy castle, everyone is happy. They like to see me come – but not to leave. If I pull the plug, the party is over."

All Belgium's group stage goals

The party is carrying on for Belgium, with Sweden up next in Friday's quarter-final at Leigh Sports Village. And Evrard has played a massive role, conceding just three group stage goals despite facing an xG of 8.5. No other keeper has prevented more goals by that metric, not least with those penalty saves against both Iceland and France.

That skill could be useful if the game against Sweden goes all the way. Evrard told UEFA.com: "In a penalty shoot-out, I try to intimidate. You don't have much to lose as a goalkeeper anyway. Then you just try to get into the head of the player who takes the penalty."

But if her performance against Italy is anything to go by, maybe Belgium won't even need penalties. She kept her focus and remained cool in the face of a late Azzurre onslaught that continued through seven added minutes. Evrard stood tall and led the post-match celebrations with her drumming; now Sweden await.

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