Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1399, (28 June - 4 July 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1399, (28 June - 4 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The High Dam

When goalkeeper Essam Al-Hadari made Egypt’s starting line-up against Saudi Arabia on Monday, he also made World Cup history, reports Inas Mazhar


photo: Osama Abdel-Nabi
photo: Osama Abdel-Nabi

At 45 years and 161 days, Egypt’s Essam Al-Hadari became the oldest ever player to play at any World Cup. Saudi Arabia was Egypt’s last match in the group stage and Al-Hadari had been a substitute in the first two matches. So, this was his last chance. With Egypt already eliminated from the competition after two defeats to Uruguay and Russia, head coach Hector Cuper decided to send Al-Hadari to the game in which he also became the oldest goalkeeper in World Cup history to save a penalty. Cuper was probably aware that if Egypt couldn’t leave a good memory at the competition, then at least the nation would be remembered for delivering such a legendary goalkeeper.

“I am thrilled with this record. I am glad I was able to achieve it and maintain my level performance as well. Being the oldest player in the history of the World Cup is a great honour for me and I am glad I had the chance to take part in this game,” Al-Hadari told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Until the eve of the match, I hadn’t had any idea if I would play, but I really wanted to and thought about it. Just like any player, I wanted to set a record. It might be a personal record for me, but it is also for Egypt, because I set it while playing with them and in a big event like the World Cup.

“Football is my life. I have never thought of my future or retirement. I train hard and as long as I am fit and capable of playing, I will continue doing so and so far, I feel good,” Al-Hadari told the Weekly. Al-Hadari had set another record, winning the Africa Cup of Nations four times, in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

With this World Cup achievement, the father of three girls and a boy overtook Faryd Mondragon, who came on as a late substitute in Colombia’s 4-1 victory over Japan four years ago at the World Cup in Brazil when he was 43.

Even before his astonishing record, Al-Hadari had been always praised by the media which have always admired his persistence and determination despite his age. And on this occasion, some of the most renowned international media representatives who have had the chance to interview him before shared with the Weekly their appreciation of the Egyptian High Dam, as nicknamed by the national media.

Nathan Gourdol of the French magazine L’Equipe had met Al-Hadari for a pre-World Cup interview at the team training camp in Zurich in March and remembers him saying “you’re not a real football player until you’ve made a World Cup. This is the only way to go down in history.”

“This Monday, Al-Hadari was able to add a last golden line to his already huge legend. Titular for the third and final match of the Pharaohs at the World Cup, against Saudi Arabia, Al-Hadari, the oldest player in the history of the World Cup, had trouble hiding his emotions. He exploded with joy as a child. He was then worthy of his nickname “Grand Dam” by stopping a penalty with a velocity and unmistakable style. Still superb in the second half, he could not avoid defeat.

“But Al-Hadari could go out with his head up. What went on in his mind after the match? A life for the purpose of Egypt? ‘After the World Cup, I will retire internationally but if they call me, I’ll be there. Because I am the soldier of the selection,’ explained this huge fan of [Gianluigi] Buffon. He can leave in peace of mind, after one last exploit, a last stone on the wall he has built.” L’Equipe awarded him a score of 7/10 for his last game, “to punctuate a grandiose international career”.

“Although goalkeepers are known to have far greater longevity than other positions, it is an incredible achievement by Al-Hadari to not just still be playing but performing at a World Cup, too,” BBC sport TV reporter and presenter Piers Edwards said.

“Over the years, I have read him repeatedly talk about his World Cup dream - which he never gave up on. His dedication to his fitness has paid off in the most wonderful way for not only has he finally appeared at the tournament, but his record will surely stand for time. And I seriously doubt anyone will ever save a penalty aged 45 again in the World Cup.

“Wonderful to see Al-Hadari show to the world just why he has been a four-time African champion. Congratulations.”

“I am happy that Al-Hadari achieved his ambition to play in a World Cup finals... as one of Africa’s all-time great goalkeepers, it is nothing less than he deserved,” Osasu Obayiuwana, an African football journalist, wrote. “It is a shame that he was part of a team that has let down Egyptian fans. But that has nothing to do with him...”

“For the fraternity of the goalkeepers all over the world, Essam is a true role model, an inspiration,” said Frank Simon, senior reporter at France Football magazine.

“Someone who is always positive. Surely he was disappointed not to start the World Cup in Russia as the coach preferred [Mohamed] Al-Shennawi. But he remained focused and motivated. All these years, he has worked a lot on his fitness, rhythm and his physical strength. He is a fantastic shot stopper and proved it again when he stopped the first penalty. It was very emotional for me as Essam is one of my favourite African players, someone I can relate to as I am an amateur keeper myself. I wish I could speak Arabic to tell him how much I admire him for being always motivated, disciplined and a leader for Egypt and the clubs he has played for. This is why I felt so sad after he conceded the second goal vs Saudi Arabia in added time. I am glad now that he has this record as the oldest player ever to play in a World Cup. Shukran khouya,” Simon wrote.

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