Egypt’s Essam El-Hadary raring to go if asked to make World Cup history

Essam El-Hadary has been training as hard as the younger members of the squad just in case he is called on to make World Cup history. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Egypt’s Essam El-Hadary raring to go if asked to make World Cup history

  • At 45, El-Hadary will become oldest player to ever play at the finals
  • 'People go on about me being 45, but I feel I am like my teammates — like I am 20'

MOSCOW: Egypt’s 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary says he feels like he is 20 again.
That’s a dream combination: A 20-year-old with the vast experience gained from a career stretching nearly three decades.
“I have dealt with three generations of players, each one of them was different,” El Hadary said in a recent television interview. “But this generation is just great. People go on about me being 45, but I feel I am like my teammates — like I am 20.”
El-Hadary is not assured of getting any game time for Egypt in the World Cup in Russia but if he does, he will make history.
Whether he is selected to start ahead of Sherif Ekramy or Mohamed Elshenawy or goes on as a substitute, El-Hadary would become the oldest person to play in a World Cup.
Colombia goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, who was 43 when he played at the last World Cup in Brazil, holds the record.
Egypt opens its campaign against Uruguay on Friday and will meet Russia and Saudi Arabia in other Group A games.
El-Hadary, who enjoys celebrity status in Egypt, has rarely spoken about the age record, preferring instead to focus on the ambitions of the Pharaohs in their first World Cup since 1990. It is a return that has given many of Egypt’s 100 million people a welcome reprieve amid harsh economic conditions.
Being in the World Cup is a particularly special occasion for El-Hadary, who gained fame and respect as the Pharaohs’ goalkeeper when they won three successive African titles between 2006 and 2010. It was a time when the Egypt team was peaking on the continental level, but kept on failing to qualify for the World Cup.
They are here now, and El-Hadary does not hide what it means to him.
“I have a goal that I have dreamt of all my life: That we qualify for the second round,” he said.
This is far from certain since Egypt could be without Liverpool’s star Mohamed Salah, who is recovering from a should injury, at least for the Uruguay game. Salah’s knack for scoring — 44 in all competitions in his debut season with the English club — would be sorely missed by a team that has heavily depended on him.
Still, El Hadary has been doing his part, showing full commitment to earning a starting spot.
During training sessions in Grozny, the team’s base in Russia, El-Hadary appears raring to go, always walking energetically to the pitch ahead of his teammates, and diving at full stretch for saves. In fitness drills, there’s no visible difference between El-Hadary and teammates who are 20 years younger.
But age can take a toll and El-Hadary, notwithstanding his tenacity, is no exception.
He has had an erratic season with his Saudi Arabia club Al-Taawoun and has of late shown glimpses of slower reflexes or bad judgment, most recently during a 3-0 loss in a warmup against Belgium. The Belgians netted twice while El-Hadary was in goal in the first half.
El-Hadary first rose to prominence with Cairo’s Al-Ahly club, but he fell out with management and left in 2008 for Switzerland, where his playing time was cut short by a transfer issue. Al-Ahly fans were upset by his departure, and he has become something of a football nomad, playing for several clubs in Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.


World Cup boost for Egypt as Mohamed Salah "is ready to play against Russia"

Updated 18 June 2018
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World Cup boost for Egypt as Mohamed Salah "is ready to play against Russia"

  • Liverpool star took part in full training
  • Egypt team manager says Salah is poised to make his World Cup bow

ST PETERSBURG: Mohamed Salah is a looming obstacle as Russia attempt to virtually secure their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
Fears that poor performances from the home side could dampen enthusiasm in the host nation were blown away by a 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game.
The seven-time African champions will pose a much tougher task, but a lot will depend upon Salah's fitness.
Liverpool star Salah has not featured since leaving the field in tears early in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago after landing heavily on his left shoulder and had to watch from the bench as Egypt lost 1-0 to Uruguay in their opening game.
Salah has been declared 100 percent fit by Egypt's team doctor and his agent, leaving little doubt he will be thrown back into action in the Pharaohs' hour of need.
However, as he returned to training on Saturday, Salah was seen by AFP reporters at Egypt's training camp in Grozny needing help from teammates to lift a training top over his head.
"Salah participated in training with his teammates for the entire session and he is ready to play against Russia according to technical staff," Egypt's team manager Ihab Leheta told FIFA.com.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper's decision not to risk Salah against Uruguay may have been influenced by the fact his side held out for 89 minutes before conceding to Jose Gimenez, by which time the Argentine had made all three of his substitutions.
"Russia's game is fateful and difficult because of our defeat against Uruguay," said Leheta. "Winning is our only choice".
If fully fit, the sight of Salah, who scored 44 goals in a remarkable debut season at Liverpool, will strike fear into the Russians.
Concerns Russia could become just the second host nation to bow out of the World Cup at the group stage after a seven-game winless run ahead of the tournament have been alleviated by a perfect start.
With Uruguay favourites to top the group, though, Russia are keen not to have to rely on getting something from their final group game against the two-time former world champions.
"The second game will be our most important one in the group stage," said Russia's deputy prime minister and former football federation president Vitaly Mutko after attending Russia's training session on Sunday.
A close ally of President Vladimir Putin, Mutko oversaw preparations for the tournament at a cost of more than $13 billion.
"In the first match, everyone saw how much the players cared. If we play up to our level, I don't see any problems."
Denis Cheryshev was Russia's hero against Saudi Arabia as he came off the bench to score twice.
And the Villarreal winger accepted it will be a more "interesting" clash if Salah is fit.
"If he's not there, does that mean our task becomes easy? Not at all," he told FIFA.com "If he plays, it will be hard but more interesting. He's one of the best and you always want to compete with the best and win."
Russia will be without one of their key players, with Alan Dzagoev expected to miss the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.