LONDON: Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary described marking his history-making World Cup debut by saving a penalty as “an honor” and “an achievement for all Egyptians.”
El-Hadary, 45, was picked by coach Hector Cuper for the game with Saudi Arabia so he could become the oldest player to play at the finals, being two years and 158 days older than previous record holder Faryd Mondragón, the Colombian.
And El-Hadary showed he was not just picked for sentimental reasons by saving Fahad Al-Muwallad’s first-half penalty, diving to his right and flicking out his left hand up to push the shot onto the bar before it was cleared.
Although he saved one penalty, the captain of Saudi Pro League side Al-Taawoun could not stop Saudi Arabia from winning 2-1 in a Group A game between two teams that had already been eliminated.
“I am very sorry for the fans, for everyone in Egypt,” El Hadary said. “I want to thank my teammates. It was a great honor for me to play. Thanks to God, this is a great achievement for Egypt more than for me personally. It’s an achievement for all Egyptians. That feat has now been crowned by me breaking the world record. What I accomplished in this tournament was the result of years of hard work, dedicated training and suffering that only a few know about.”
El-Hadary made his international duty in 1997 against Algeria and has gone on to win 159 caps, but this was his first World Cup.
“I’ve been the Pharaoh’s goalkeeper for years, including during the qualifiers for this Word Cup,” he said in an interview with the FIFA website. “Our efforts reaped fruit and we returned to the world stage after a 28-year absence. God helped me crown my football career with a participation in the World Cup. This in itself is an accomplishment. We must benefit from both the positive and negative aspects. There are many lessons to learn.”
Now feels like a neat way for El-Hadary to sign off his international career, but he said he will let the dust settle on an otherwise disappointing World Cup campaign before deciding whether to carry on.
“I will make my decision (about retirement) after the World Cup,” he said. “There will be many decisions concerning my long journey with this delightful game.”
Cuper could easily have picked Mohamed El-Shenawy for the third game in a row, especially with his job on the line, but he gauged the mood of the Egyptian people and opted for the people’s choice in goal.
“It is true that it was a special record today and many, many people in Egypt love him and support him,” Cuper said. “And he has played a great game.”