Essam El-Hadary set to make history as Hector Cuper plays down Egypt criticism

Egypt's Argentine coach Hector Raul Cuper (L) and Egypt's goalkeeper Essam El Hadary attend a press conference at the Volgograd arena. (AFP / PHILIPPE DESMAZES)
Updated 26 June 2018
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Essam El-Hadary set to make history as Hector Cuper plays down Egypt criticism

  • Essam El-Hadary looks set to become the oldest footballer to play at a World Cup on Monday
  • With both Egypt and Saudi Arabia unable to usurp Uruguay and Russia in Group A for a place in the knockout stages, the match is a dead rubber

VOLGOGRAD: Essam El-Hadary looks set to become the oldest footballer to play at a World Cup on Monday when his Egypt side face Saudi Arabia in their last match of the tournament. Although coach Hector Cuper refused to reveal his line-up, the selection of El-Hadary to appear alongside him in the pre-match press conference yesterday suggests the goalkeeper is in line to break Faryd Mondragon’s four-year-old record.
“Obviously I would be very happy if I participate in the match, but this is not certain,” said El-Hadary, who is 45 years, five months and 12 days old today.
“This decision, though, remains with the management of the team.”
With both Egypt and Saudi Arabia unable to usurp Uruguay and Russia in Group A for a place in the knockout stages, the match is a dead rubber. That has led to much speculation that Cuper, who had preferred Al-Ahly’s Mohammed El-Shenawy in their opening two defeats, might make a sentimental gesture by selecting Saudi Arabia-based El-Hadary.
If he plays, El-Hadary will comfortably beat the record of Colombia’s Mondragon, who made a substitute appearance in Brazil four years ago aged 43 years and three days.
“Obviously for any player to be involved, especially in a World Cup, is a high achievement. Even if it is a record set by myself, Essam El-Hadary, it will also be an achievement for Egypt,” said the Al-Taawoun goalkeeper, who made his debut for Egypt 22 years ago.
Egypt’s preparation for today’s match with the Green Falcons has been carried under a cloud of speculation after rumors emerged that players — including El-Hadary — had clashed with Cuper. Both coach and keeper dismissed such suggestions, with the Argentine manager insisting that he would not entertain questions unless evidence could be provided. El-Hadary added: “If I was making trouble in the team then I don’t deserve to be in the team.”
The final Group A match against Saudi Arabia offers both teams a chance to finish their respective World Cup campaigns on a positive note. While Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side lost 5-0 on the opening night to the hosts and were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Uruguay, Egypt endured similar defeats in reverse, losing in the last minute to the South Americans before being made to pay for a period of poor concentration against Russia to lose 3-1.
Egypt, making their first appearance on the world stage since 1990, are chasing a first World Cup win. While Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is expected to be passed fit having featured in the Pharaohs’ last game, Cuper was coy when asked if he would ring the changes. He has used only 14 players across 180 minutes of football so far.
“For us, this is an important match because we want to end this participation in the World Cup with a good result,” he said.
“We’re playing for all the people in Egypt and want to give them joy. We want to end this World Cup with a triumph, even though this might be only a footnote in the future. For Egypt to win a first World Cup match would be something very important. What we want to do, then, is bow out in style in the next match.”
Cuper, who may also be bowing out of his time at the Egypt helm after today’s match, has come in for criticism in recent weeks. The 62-year-old, however, insists he is not listening to the critics and is focused on the job.
“Somebody who’s a critic is a critic, that’s his job,” Cuper said. “It’s very difficult to convince everyone. I want to convince my players, link up with them in a way that brings results.
“Criticism really doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t anger me. We have to see individually what our reality is. You look at it, analyze the situation, then you choose a certain line of action to achieve results. But making everybody happy? It’s impossible.”


Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

Updated 20 July 2018
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Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

  • Portuguese superstar has moved to Italian giants in deal worth nearly $120 million
  • Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid

LONDON: Love him or loathe him, you have to admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s character.
At a time of life when lesser mortals are lured by big paychecks to the likes of Qatar or China, the mercurial Madeiran has opted for what will be his biggest challenge yet at Juventus.
His career over the last decade has been played out under the cloud of the never-ending debate — “Ronaldo or Messi; who is better?”
Thankfully, that circus was quietened somewhat at the recent World Cup. Some flashes of pure brilliance aside, neither player made a big enough impact to lead their respective teams to glory and Messi’s wait for an international trophy goes on.
And, while both players are undeniably in a league of their own, the fact Ronaldo does have a European Championship title under his belt will always tip the argument toward the Portuguese — especially for those who measure greatness in statistics and trophies.
In fairness, Ronaldo’s statistics are mind-boggling. His stint at Manchester United, where he cut his teeth and started to show his potential as a great of the game, was instrumental in the club winning three Premier League titles and their third European crown. His staggering 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid saw him become the Spanish giant’s record goalscorer on his way to winning everything under the sun.
But the Premier League and La Liga are leagues in which attacking footballers flourish. With the dawning of wall-to-wall TV coverage, they have both been transformed to entertain the billions of people who tune in every week — and in this day and age, goalscoring superstars win you fans, not defenses.
The art of defending has all-but disappeared and the culture of building a spine through a team has slowly but surely been eroded away. Nobody wants to watch an engrossing, absorbing, end-to-end goalless draw anymore — it is all about 6-5 thrillers.
But not so in Italy.
Serie A, for all its scandals and fall from grace since its heady days of the 1990s, is still an extremely difficult league to win. It is a league in which fans and managers place great emphasis on defending, on building teams from back-to-front (not the other way around) and on the mentality of “you cannot lose if you don’t concede.”
Granted, Juventus have walked Serie A for the past seven seasons; it is to be expected from one of the richest clubs in the world. But rarely have they won it at a canter. Never once have they scored anywhere near 100 goals in a season to win it — unlike Manchester City in last season’s Premier League, or Barcelona and Real Madrid almost every season in the same period.
And not once has Serie A’s top-goalscorer reached the dizzying heights Ronaldo (and Messi) hit in La Liga season after season, nor has it always been a Juventus player claiming the golden boot.
This all points to a monumental challenge for Ronaldo. On paper, he should not find it as easy to score goals in Serie A and with the marked improvement of Napoli, Roma and Lazio recently, nor will it be an easy ride for Juventus to claim an eighth scudetto in a row this year.
So, while Messi prefers to stay in one country and within his comfort zone of the defense-shy Spanish league, if a 30-something Ronaldo succeeds in Italy — or, better yet, guides Juventus to the European glory the fans crave so much — it would be his most remarkable achievement yet.
And it would put the tiresome debate over who is the greatest ever to bed, once and for all.
No contest.