FEATURE: 44-year-old Egyptian keeper El Hadary’s heroic bedtime story

Essam El-Hadary Burkina Faso Egypt ACN 2017 01022017

Before the game, all the talk was about Hadary’s age in what was his 150th cap coming into Wednesday night’s 2017 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final against Burkina Faso in Libreville, Gabon.

Now, age is no longer a number as Hadary rose magnificently to save two penalties in the 4-3 shootout victory. It wasn’t just in the lottery of the shootout that the keeper proved his heroism.

Just before the end of full time, he made a brilliant save from Banou Diawara’s effort. That was soon after denying Bertrand Traoré’s dangerous free-kick. Hadary was single-handedly carrying his nation through.

A key attribute for the team is that they didn’t concede a single goal in this Afcon, until Aristide Bancé scored for Burkina Faso in the 73rd minute. That equalizer came after Mohamed Salah had awarded Egypt the lead seven minutes earlier.

Pharaohs coach Hector Cuper admitted how Burkina Faso performed with superior quality on the night, and that his own forces were holding out for a penalty shootout where Hadary had to save the day.

“We knew it would be difficult because Burkina were powerful and very quick. They were much fitter than us. They were even better in the second half with aggressive attacking. They wasted so many chances,” said Cuper.

“Our players were fatigued so we aimed for the penalties because anything could happen there.”

With Hadary coming up trumps against Traore in regulation time, the keeper already had the psychological advantage, and made the decisive stop to deny Traore again, lifting Egypt to a record-equaling ninth Afcon final.

Essam El-Hadary

The Wadi Degla (Cairo football club) keeper has already lifted four Afcon titles, even though he sat on the bench for his first one in 1998. Back then Egypt’s no.1 was Nader El Sayed.

Hadary would then go on to claim the position for himself in what was Egypt’s most successful generation that won an unprecedented hat-trick of Nations Cup titles between 2006 and 2010.

The 44-year-old spoke to the Gabon media about how he tells his teammates stories to motivate them, reminding one of how a father tells his children bedtime stories. Late at night in Gabon, the veteran Hadary created new stories for his younger generation on the pitch.

"I tell them the stories of our past success; on how we did it, how we won," said Hadary.

"I find they like to hear the stories. It gives them a kind of motivation. But this team is so determined they don't need me to motivate them.

"We all have a loyalty to our country, we want to serve our country. It's in our nature. We have all vowed to make it happen. So I treat them all as an elder brother would.”

In the final on Sunday, Egypt will play the winners from Thursday night’s second semi-final, Ghana or Cameroon. Clinching that game will see Hadary surpass countryman Ahmed Hassan who also boasts four Afcon titles.

They are tipped to face the favourites, the Black Stars, with whom they’ve enjoyed a storied rivalry in recent years. Egypt beat them 2-0 in the Fifa World Cup qualifier at home in November 2016. This went some way to gain revenge for their embarrassing 2014 Fifa World Cup playoff qualifier, where they lost 6-1 against Ghana away.

In 2017 Egypt rubbed it in with a 1-0 win against Ghana in the group stage of this very same Afcon. First, Ghana needs to beat Cameroon to setup another titanic clash in Africa.

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Hadary had already expressed the vitality of victory at all costs, even when you’re not at your best in tough conditions around the continent.

"We achieved our target as it's important to focus on how to get a win rather than how to perform," the Egyptian goalkeeper told BeIN Sports.


Here's how football fans and the media from around Africa reacted to Hadary's ageless performance.