At age 44, Essam El-Hadary continues to make football headlines, not only because he is the oldest player at an African Cup of Nations (AFCON) but because his agility and alertness since he broke onto the scene seem not to wane.
The Pharaohs of Egypt – are the continent’s most decorated national side. They have seven AFCON titles, a number almost double their closest contenders – Cameroon and Ghana who have five and four titles respectively.
They came into the tournament with El-Hadary as the second choice goalie but it was not long before the man who had been the first choice for over a decade was called to duty after the first choice goalie, got injured in their first game. From the subs bench he came in as captain.
Whiles the Egyptian defence is largely credited with being mean and allowing in few goals, El-Hadary’s most recent heroics had nothing to do with a defensive cover. The 44-year-old saved two penalties in their semi-final clash against Burkina Faso and sent Egypt into the finals.
The global sports headlines won’t focus on Egypt’s team qualification neither will they emphasize how unfortunate it was for the dominant Burkinabes to be kicked out with spot kicks.
The news from Libreville was all about how El-Hadary had fired Egypt to greater history making.
Great story: Egypt's 44-year-old keeper Essam El-Hadary saves two penalties in shoot out to take his side into African Cup of Nations final— Kaveh Solhekol (@SkyKaveh) February 1, 2017
Egypt's Essam El-Hadary is dominating AFCON 2017 at the age of 44…— Football Facts (@FootbalIFact) February 2, 2017
5 Games 📝
4 Clean Sheets 🙌
4 Wins ✅
2 Pens Saved 🔥
1 Goal Conceded ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/EXKcJJITC3
Unfortunately, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon stood in the way of the Pharaohs coming from behind to beat their opponents and pick their fifth AFCON crown.
The AFCON loss however takes little away from El-Hadary’s exploits on the African terrain. A few facts about his record-breaking feat since making his debut for Egypt over two decades go.
- 1. El-Hadary made his international debut in March 1996 and has since made 153 appearances.
- 2. He made his first AFCON showing in 1998 with Egypt going on to win the trophy.
- 3. At 44, he is the oldest player to play in an AFCON, won man-of-the-match accolade against Burkina Faso.
- 4. Till Aristide Bance’s goal in the semis, El-Hadary had gone 10 hours and 53 minutes without conceding a goal in the AFCON
- 5. He has been part of Egypt’s last four AFCON triumphs, 1998, (Burkina Faso), 2006 (Egypt), 2008 (Ghana), 2010 (Angola).
- 6. He holds the record as Egypt’s most capped goalie. He set a record with teammate Ahmed Hassan who has also won the same number of AFCON trophies.
Habibi 😭❤️ pic.twitter.com/6eUHia1oJe— Eman Youssef (@emanyxo) February 5, 2017
BBCAfrica (@BBC_NickCavell) February 6, 2017
He had the kind words from Chelsea FC’s number one goalie, Thibaut Courtois, but it was not to be as he won Egypt’s only trophy at the AFCON bagging the fair play trophy at the closing ceremony.
Essam El-Hadary made his 150th appearance for Egypt during their 1-0 win last night. The 20th player in history to reach this milestone. pic.twitter.com/WbiwJc25EP— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 26, 2017
it broke my heart seeing u cry— Farida Hobeldin (FHobeldin) February 5, 2017
ElHadaryi swear we wouldn't have went to this stage without you. Forever and always a champion❤❤❤
44-year-old Essam El-Hadary looking devastated after missing out on the African Cup of Nations title. pic.twitter.com/TtEDOkOwED— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 5, 2017