History-making El-Hadary apologizes to Egypt fans after World Cup exit

It was a day of mixed emotions for Egypt's Essam El-Hadary when he played against Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
Updated 26 June 2018

History-making El-Hadary apologizes to Egypt fans after World Cup exit

  • Essam El-Hadary, 45, breaks record of Faryd Mondragón
  • 'This is a great achievement for Egypt more than for me personally'

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.”

Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

Updated 13 min 50 sec ago

Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

  • Austrian fifth seed took fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph

LONDON: Dominic Thiem produced a scintillating display of attacking tennis to beat Novak Djokovic and qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Tuesday, leaving the Serbian facing a shootout against Roger Federer.

In the standout match so far at London’s O2 Arena, the Austrian fifth seed took the fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)

Earlier, Federer put himself back in the mix at the end-of-season event with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win against Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini in their round-robin clash.

Federer and Djokovic will face off on Thursday in a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final to determine who else will progress from Group Bjorn Borg.

Thiem was forced to play high-stakes tennis against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, taking the breath away with some of his inside-out forehands and single-handed backhands

Forced to play at his limit, he hit 50 winners compared with Djokovic’s tally of 27 but also racked up 44 unforced errors.

“This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practiced all my life for, all my childhood for,” Thiem said.

“Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semifinals, which is the best.

“Coming back from 1-4 (down in the deciding tie-break) was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget. Novak is the best player in the world and I had to do something special.”

In a captivating first set the players swapped a break apiece but Djokovic, a five-time ATP Finals champion, edged the tie-break.

Undaunted, Thiem broke his opponent at the first opportunity in the second set and, with Djokovic’s error count climbing, went on to level the match.

Thiem also drew first blood in the decider but cracked in the sixth game as Djokovic levelled the match and appeared to have engineered a switch in momentum.

The Austrian successfully challenged at 30-30 in the 10th game after his forehand was ruled out, preventing a match point for Djokovic and he toughed it out to level at 5-5.

He then broke Djokovic to love to earn a chance to serve for the match but stumbled and the decider went to a tie-break.

Still the drama was not finished. Thiem slipped to 4-1 down but battled back to win it on his second match point when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net.

Third seed Federer had put himself under the cosh by losing his opening round-robin match to Thiem. The six-time champion was not at his fluent best on Tuesday but ultimately had too much for his Italian opponent.

The Swiss upped his game to take the first set tie-break comfortably and broke immediately at the start of the second set to leave the big-serving Berrettini with too much to do.

Federer was asked after his win against Berrettini whether his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon had left emotional or mental scars.

“We’ll find out, but I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” said the Swiss.

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Djokovic is hunting a sixth ATP Finals title to pull level with Federer’s record and is also seeking to pip Rafael Nadal to the year-end number one ranking.

On Monday, top seed Nadal lost his opener in Group Andre Agassi to defending champion Alexander Zverev while Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev.