- The age in which Essam Kamal Tawfiq El Hadary became the World Cup’s oldest-ever player.
The date? June 25, 2018. The arena? The Volgograd Arena. The gloves that stopped Fahad Al Muwallad’s penalty safely installed in the FIFA History Museum. He had surpassed Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon’s record broken only four years earlier. Only this time, it wasn’t on top of the goalpost celebrating with fans.
An outlaw, El-Hadary never subscribed to norms. He’d been discreet about his football career to his parents while also refusing hand gloves at his first trial. This week, amidst a pandemic, El-Hadary called it quits from a sport he’d graced for a quarter of a century.
Since his debut, the US have had four presidents, the UK have had six Prime Ministers, South Africa and Eritrea achieved independence. George Weah won the Ballon d’Or, retired, contested the Liberian elections, and became president.
Muwallad, whom he saved his penalty on that fateful afternoon in Volgograd wasn’t even born.
AFHQ has put together Essam El Hadary’s Top Five Games.
- EGYPT vs ITALY, 2009 FIFA CONFEDRATIONS CUP.
Ranked as El-Hadary’s greatest performance of all time, the Pharaohs arrived in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park in their element having taken Brazil to the rafters and almost escaping with a draw. Italy didn’t heed the warning. Mohamed Homos scored just before the break, and Italy arose like a man from his slumber. The siege on the Egyptian goal was as the Greeks did the Trojans, and seeking a savior, El-Hadary turned up. He denied Guiseppe Rossi and Fabio Quagliarella’s rasping drives, before smothering two pointblank efforts from Vincenzo Iaguinta. Simone Pepe got in on the act and was swiftly denied before Ricardo Montolivo, fresh off the bench saw his effort from near the penalty spot denied. He was impenetrable – steering the Pharaohs to a historic success. It would prove insufficient, as they fell to the US in their final group game cue elimination.
- EGYPT vs IVORY COAST, 2006 AFCON FINAL
El-Hadary and Egypt had conceded three goals en route to the final, all in consecutive games. In the final, Hadary kept a cleansheet, joining victorious goalies Boukar Alioum, Rais Mbolhi, Kennedy Mweene and Vincent Enyeama in achieving the feat. It was his brilliance from the spot that sealed it, denying Didier Drogba and Bakari Kone, stars of the Ivorian team. He’d kept both men out in normal time, turning away Drogba’s fluffed effort, before smothering Kanga Akale’s effort from range. He needed a bit more reflex and precision in stopping Bakari Kone though, as the 5ft 6in star curled a beauty that was worthy of a goal, helping it out, as he and Jean Jacques-Tizie competed for best show of reflexes. Egypt won 4-2 on penalties and Hadary would climb the goalposts to celebrate with the fans, the love story was rekindled. He was 33.
- EGYPT vs CAMEROON, 2008 AFCON FINAL
Cameroon were aiming to avoid the same fate that befell Ivory Coast two years prior, hence, before Mohammed Aboutrika’s winner, they pelted attempts at the Egyptian goal. What they saw, they didn’t like. Geremi Njitap began hostilities with a trademark belter that had undone many, smothered by Hadary. It would be followed by Egypt’s period of sustained pressure which yielded a goal, after which Cameroon desperately sought an equalizer. Gilles Binya’s looping throw into the box, was flicked on by Mo Idrissou, directing the ball towards goal, Hadary, off balance took a step back before parrying away with his left hand. He would deny the tall Idrissou again after he was put clean through to keep his team ahead. He remains the only goalie to keep three clean sheets at the AFCON Finals, and alongside Iker Casillas, the two goalkeepers to keep three consecutive clean sheets in consecutive international finals.
- ETOILE DU SAHEL vs AL AHLY, 2005 CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL FIRST LEG
This was Ahly’s first final in four years, against Etoile, the team who had lost the previous year’s final. It was an arduous task on paper, Etoile were on a roll. They had scored in eight consecutive home games in the competition, they had in fact scored in seven consecutive outings in that season’s edition, their last blank coming in the group opener. It was in Sousse, the slaughter slab. However, Ahly and Hadary survived. He put up a performance that showed he was more than just a goalkeeper, denying Emeka Opara, Yacine Chikhaoui and Gilson Silva. He had erected an invisible wall and Etoile couldn’t penetrate. Keeping the Reds at bay. They didn’t need his help in the return leg surely as Ahly ran away with the tie in Cairo. Hadary was climbing the goalpost again. He had earned his shirt as the first-choice keeper at the AFCON.
- ENGLAND vs EGYPT, 2010 FRIENDLY
The venue was Wembley as England sought to prepare for 2010 World Cup opponents, Algeria. The Pharaohs, African Champions and seventeenth in the World arrived unfazed, and went ahead through Mohammed Zidan, what followed, was huge barracking from the English. Jermaine Defoe, would be denied by El-Hadary twice in one v one situations, before the Egyptian parried a long-range effort from Lampard. The second half offered tougher challenges, and with England ahead, El-Hadary kept the score respectable after Ahmed Fathy received his marching orders. He’d smother two further long rangers from Gerrard and Lampard before pulling a double save from Crouch and Wright-Phillips. Egypt lost 3-1. It should have been more.