Football buffs have continued to pour encomiums on Egypt’s 44-year-old goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary, whose heroic displays booked yet another Africa Cup of Nations’ (AFCON) final for the seven-time champions.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Egyptian veteran did not show any sign of diminishing reflexes in spite of his advanced age to save two spot kicks in their semi-final match.
El Hadary, prior to the semi-final game against Burkina Faso had yet to concede a goal, since coming in as a 25th minute substitute to the injured first choice goalkeeper, Ahmed Shannawy.
Egypt regarded as underdogs also enjoyed unbeaten run in the competition in spite of their slow start when they were held to a goalless draw against Mali in their first match.
The semi-final match, however, ended in a draw with a goal from Roma FC winger Mohamed Salah, while the Paulo Duarte-tutored side got their goal through the veteran Aristide Bance.
The undisputed oldest player in AFCON history El Hadary, was however at his best, keeping clean sheets until the semi-final match against the Burkina Babes.
The match was decided by penalty after extra-time, while Egypt took the first penalty by Abdallah El-Said and the weak shot was comfortably saved by Burkina’s Hervé Koffi.
El Hadary was able to put up a heroic display to save two penalties, one from the Burkina Faso goalkeeper, Hervé Koffi, and Bertrand Traoré.
Congratulating El Hadary, FIFA wrote on his Twitter page: “Two beams, one missed effort of his team and the other carrying his team has one tearful encounter left and the usual hero left’’.
Speaking on El Hadary’s rare qualities, ex-Super Eagles winger, Mutiu Adepoju, said “his qualities were peculiar to him, his goalkeeping abilities were exceptional.”
“We don’t get to see such stars all the time. Egypt is presently doing well and we have to commend the goalkeeper. They are now in their eight finals.”
“They deserve the final because they are a good side with high technicality. The goalkeeper is exceptional even at 44; he is at his best and doing fine.”
“I believe the coach has a lot of confidence in him, it is a great thing seeing someone at 44 very active with sharp reflexes; it is commendable.”
“I don’t know if any Nigerian players can attain such milestone because it depends on the body. I think Egypt can be the potential winner of the tournament, but we should consider Ghana and Cameroon too,’’ he said.
Former Nigeria national team goalkeeper, Joe Erico, said that though goalkeeper’s lifespan could be up to 50 years, El Hadary’s feat was exceptional.
“Goalkeeper’s lifespan can be up to 50 years because the older the wine the better the taste, but El Hadary’s feat can be regarded as exceptional in all ramifications.”
“The problem with the Nigerian system is our inability to retain successful players in the national team even if they are at their best forgetting that age is just a number.”
“Egypt has been able to keep the tradition of retaining their old hands and it shows in their recorded successes achieved through that,’’ he said.
David Ngodigha, also a former Nigerian goalkeeper, said that the Egyptian iconic goalkeeper had set unassailable record for others to break.
“The Egyptian has set an unassailable record; he broke the record and set a new one for others to know that goalkeepers can still play at higher levels in spite of advanced age.”
“El Hadary has been consistent enough, and he his mentally fit. To man the post at such an old age is quite commendable,’’ he said.
NAN reports that Egypt is on course for a record extending their eighth title against a more rugged Cameroonian side gunning for the fifth title after dispatching Ghana 2-0 in Franceville on Thursday.
Sunday’s final will be played in Libreville.