Egypt's Essam El-Hadary, a living legend
El Hadary will shatter the record set by compatriot Hossam Hassan in 2006, when the feisty striker was 39 years, five months and 24 days old
Veteran goalkeeper Essam El Hadary’s save from Bertrand Traore’s spot-kick allowed Egypt to beat Burkina Faso 4-3 on penalties on Wednesday as they secured their place in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
A tense semi-final in Libreville had ended 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time, with Mohamed Salah’s superb 66th-minute opener for the Egyptians quickly cancelled out by Aristide Bance for Burkina Faso.
That goal was the first conceded by El Hadary in 653 minutes at the Cup of Nations going back to 2010
or Egypt, the record seven-time champions of Africa, the win completes a remarkable journey all the way to the final in their first appearance at the tournament after a seven-year absence.
Unbeaten in 24 games at the tournament, they will play Cameroon or Ghana in Gabon's capital on Sunday as they look to reclaim a trophy they had won three times in a row between 2006 and 2010 before their fall from grace.
Two days after his 44th birthday, Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player to compete at the African Nations Cup finals and among the oldest internationals in soccer history.
El Hadary is playing at his seventh finals, one shy of the record held by Rigobert Song of Cameroon.
The veteran goalkeeper had been recalled to Egypt’s squad as back-up last year but promoted up the order and was first choice for their two World Cup group qualifiers against Congo and Ghana in October and November -- matches they both won.
However, his place has not been confirmed in the build-up to Tuesday’s match, which will be Egypt’s first in the finals of the tournament since 2010.
“We haven’t chosen our first choice keeper yet,” goalkeeper coach Ahmed Nagy told Egyptian television at the weekend.
“Having three excellent and experienced goalkeepers in the current squad gives Egypt a good boost in Gabon,” he added.
El Hadary was a squad member when Egypt won the Nations Cup in Burkina Faso in 1998 and again sat on the bench in 2000. He played at the 2002 finals and again from 2006 to 2010, when Egypt won three back-to-back titles.
He has also made no secret of his desire to compete at the World Cup in some 18 months’ time.
“I will fight to reach the World Cup,” he told reporters. “I don’t care about my age; I train like I am 20 years old.”
El Hadary has a daughter almost as old as the squad's youngest player, Ramadan Sobhi of Stoke City, who turned 20 a week ago.
Greek international Giorgis Koudas, brought on as a substitute in a friendly against Yugoslavia in 1995 aged 48, is the oldest international according to the statistical site rsssf.com.
Yet Essam El Hadary is not only setting new records for longevity but also looking to become the most successful footballer in African history. On Wednesday, he earned his 150th cap for his country.
The match put El Hadary one step closer to claiming an astonishing fifth Nations Cup winners' medal while extending his record as the tournament's oldest player at 44 years and 17 days.