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.”


Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

Updated 16 November 2018
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Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

  • Riyad Mahrez signed for City in a $76.6 million move
  • All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a record-breaking side

MANCHESTER: It took eight games for Riyad Mahrez to show why Manchester City paid a club record £60 million ($76.6 million) for his services.
All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a side that broke records on the way to claiming the Premier League title last season.
The Algerian winger came off the bench just past the hour mark against Cardiff two months ago and slid home his first City goal from close range before curling in a second with a fine left-foot finish.
The brace provided lift-off for the 27-year-old and his confident displays since have quickly dispelled any doubts that he would struggle to adapt to a system under Guardiola that demands commitment as well as class.
For Mahrez, he has been working to fulfil this footballing dream ever since he was a youngster practicing his skills on the streets of Paris suburb Sarcelles, encouraged by his late father Ahmed.
“I’m proud,” he says of an inspiring journey that began professionally in the French Second Division with Quimper in 2009, then at Le Havre a year later, before joining Leicester City for just £400,000 in 2014.
“It’s not easy to arrive here (at City), to come to a club like this. You need to work very hard to get here and when you do it’s not the final thing.
“You still need to work even more, to perform, to be humble, and to try to go higher. Of course, I want to do even better.
“I didn’t feel any pressure when I came because of the price, I don’t think about this stuff.
“I’m feeling good now at City, playing good at the moment and we are winning games. But it’s not finished yet and we need to keep going. The season is very long and we all have to keep going like this.”
While Mahrez has already won the league title with Leicester during a fairytale 2015-16 season that also saw him crowned the PFA Player of the Year, he remains ambitious and convinced he can still improve.
A yardstick has perhaps been set by Liverpool’s Egyptian frontman Mohamed Salah, who took his game to another level with 44 goals last season, winning the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards and named third in the 2018 Best FIFA Men’s Player.
“Salah had a very good season. And we have a good team, we can score a lot of goals and I hope to do more, like he has done,” Mahrez told Arab News exclusively.
“But the most important thing is that we keep on winning as a team, and I’m going to try to help the team to do this, to score goals, make assists.”
The performances of Mahrez, who has claimed four more goals since the Cardiff match, and eight-goal Salah on Merseyside could well be integral to how their clubs eventually fare in this campaign.
Both teams are unbeaten in the league after 12 games with City two points clear of Liverpool, a lead confirmed by the impressive 3-1 win over neighbors United in the recent Manchester derby.
But Mahrez knows the mesmerising manner in which they have roared to the top will mean nothing if they are not there next May.
“The derby was special, a good atmosphere, a good win, I’m very happy,” he said after his first experience of the rivalry.
“But it’s not that because we beat United we are going to win the league. You can’t think like that, there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep focus.
“We have a good team, we are playing well. We just need to keep working hard for each other and we know we are going to be there at the end of the season. That’s the target.
“I won the title with Leicester, but I came here to win more trophies.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to win this or that, but of course this is a club that wants to win trophies. Win the Premier League, I don’t know. Win the Champions League, I don’t know.
“But we are going to make everything we can to try to do that. That’s the challenge for us.”