El-Hadary is sim­ply un­match­able

CityPress - - Sport -

When Es­sam El-Hadary, the Egypt goal­keeper who will start in to­day’s Africa Cup of Na­tions (Afcon) fi­nal, made his in­ter­na­tional de­but, his cur­rent team-mate Ra­madan Sobhi had not yet been born.

First capped in 1996, El-Hadary was the man whose saves in a penalty shoot-out against Burk­ina Faso on Wed­nes­day took the Pharaohs through to a date with Cameroon in Libreville.

The com­bined age of the two Burk­in­abe play­ers he thwarted – Ber­trand Traoré and goal­keeper Hervé Koffi are 21 and 20 re­spec­tively – does not match that of ElHadary, who is unique in still go­ing strong at 44.

“All I have done all my life is train. I can’t do any­thing with­out foot­ball,” he said after play­ing in Egypt’s 0-0 draw with Mali that be­gan their cam­paign in Gabon.

He had turned 44 just two days be­fore that game. His team-mates made him a cake, although he in­sists that he hates cel­e­brat­ing birthdays and pre­ferred to mark the oc­ca­sion by be­com­ing the old­est player ever at the Cup of Na­tions.

Named on the bench at kick­off, he soon came on for the in­jured Ahmed el-Shenawy to break the pre­vi­ous record set by fel­low Egyp­tian Hos­sam Has­san, who was barely 39 and a half when he played at the 2006 tour­na­ment.

“I am the hap­pi­est per­son in Egypt at play­ing at the Cup of Na­tions again,” he said later. “I had a feel­ing be­fore the match I would play. I dreamt of break­ing the record.”

He has re­mained the last line of de­fence in Héc­tor Cúper’s solid and hard­work­ing side and had gone 653 min­utes with­out con­ced­ing in the Cup of Na­tions un­til Aris­tide Bancé’s strike for Burk­ina Faso in the semi­fi­nal.

Yet he must have thought his last Cup of Na­tions had long since passed him by as Egypt failed to qual­ify for any of the last three tour­na­ments.

A reg­u­lar for Cairo giants Al Ahly for more than a decade, he had been in goal for each of Egypt’s three con­sec­u­tive Cup tri­umphs – in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

El-Hadary was also in the squad when the Pharaohs lifted the tro­phy in Burk­ina Faso in 1998, so alone he has won the Cup of Na­tions as many times as Cameroon.

But his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer was seem­ingly well and truly over un­til Cúper sur­pris­ingly re­called him for the fi­nal Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier against Tan­za­nia last June. Ded­i­ca­tion By then El-Hadary, who once had a stint in Switzer­land, had joined Wadi Degla of Cairo, where his pro­fes­sion­al­ism left its mark on his French coach Pa­trice Carteron.

“He ded­i­cates his days to his own well­be­ing. He will ar­rive an hour and a half be­fore ev­ery­one else for train­ing so he can do his stretches. It is the same thing at the end of the day,” Carteron told AFP.

“He is the only player I have known to have an apart­ment just next to the sta­dium to avoid hav­ing to drive around too much, while his wife and chil­dren live a bit fur­ther away in a big house.”

El-Hadary has a fair way to go be­fore he matches the achieve­ments of Stan­ley Matthews, the leg­endary English­man who played at the top level un­til he was 50.

But as well as an­other Cup of Na­tions, ElHadary has al­ready ear­marked one other ma­jor ob­jec­tive be­fore he re­tires: the 2018 World Cup.

“I still haven’t played in a World Cup, so I dream of play­ing in Rus­sia.” – AFP

PHOTO: GAVIN BARKER / BACK­PAGE

VET­ERAN Es­sam El-Hadary cel­e­brates a win

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