Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The old guard

Evergreen Al-Hadari makes a shock return to the Egyptian national football team at age 43, reports Marawan Zayed

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Shocking is the least you can say when you hear about an over 40-year-old player returning to the national team 468 days after his last match for Egypt, against Tunisia in November 2014. However, Egyptian fans did not even need to show excitement about the news. Essam Al-Hadari is widely considered one of the best goalkeepers in the history of Egyptian football, if not the best.

The four-time winner of the Africa Cup of Nations might be 43 years old but he’s still producing magical displays for his club Wadi Degla which led to his extremely surprising call-up. Egypt’s coach Hector Cuper expressed his admiration and respect for Al-Hadari and insisted that the veteran goalkeeper merited a return given his unbelievable form for his club. Cuper, from Argentina, also said that he did not care about the age of his players as long as they can offer something to the squad, adding that he would have picked Al-Hadari even if he was 50 years old.

Goalkeepers last longer on the field than most players. Peter Shilton was 40 when he captained England in the 1990 World Cup. Dino Zoff led Italy to the 1982 World Cup, also at 40. But in Egypt, once any player hits 30, calls for retirement start.

Al-Hadari could not hide his absolute delight that he was given the nod, saying it was a dream to rejoin the national setup again. “I am very happy to be back again and to be trained again by [goalkeeper coach] Ahmed Nagi,” Al-Hadari said in a televised interview. “If they asked me to gather the balls or carry the players’ boots, I will do that immediately. It is a great honour to be back, and I am so happy with the return,” added Al-Hadari, who represented Egypt 139 times, the 23rd most capped international player in history.

Al-Hadari, who is expected to be the third choice goalkeeper behind Zamalek’s Ahmed Al-Shinawi and Petrojet’s Mohamed Al-Shinawi, made it clear he did not care if he plays and that it was just enough for him to be picked again despite his age. “I will work so hard and I will do my best. It won’t matter who starts and who plays; the most important thing is the Egyptian national team and we will do our best.”

Didier Drogba, one of the best strikers in the history of the game and who played against the goalkeeping likes of Casillas, Buffon, Cech and Van Der Sar, once said Al-Hadari was the most difficult opponent he ever faced in his career and that he felt he would never score against him even if he played forever. Al-Hadari’s save of a Drogba header in the semi-finals of the 2008 African cup against Ivory Coast has been compared to Gordon Banks’ Save of the Century when he turned Pele’s stinging short-range header for a corner.

Al-Hadari is also a well-known figure amongst Italian fans when he produced one of the best individual performances for a goalkeeper ever against Italy in the Confederations Cup in 2009, as Egypt beat the then defending World Cup champions 1-0. Goal.com, one of the most famous soccer websites in the world, gave Al-Hadari 10 out of 10 in the player ratings of the game. “This is one of the few 10’s ever awarded on goal.com. Al-Hadari single-handedly won the game for Egypt with countless world class saves. Of those that stood out, he denied Laquinta three times, Montolivo and Rossi once -- all of them stunning stops.” That was how goal.com described Al-Hadari’s performance after the game.

Whether Al-Hadari, who won more club championships than any other goalkeeper in Egypt when he was with storied team Ahly, will really see action with the national team again remains to be seen but the one thing that even Al-Hadari doubters are sure about now is that the goalie is an absolute legend.

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