- El Hadary becomes the oldest player in FIFA World Cup history
- Breaks the record held by Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon set at Brazil 2014
- Impresses against Saudi Arabia, spectacularly saving a penalty
By Belal Mostafa with Egypt
For Essam El Hadary, the evening could not have been better. When the Egyptian goalkeeper entered the Volgograd Arena to face Saudi Arabia in the countries’ final game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, he made history as the oldest person ever to play at football's flagship event.
At 45 years and 161 days, El Hadary, who was born in the village of Kafr El Battikh in northern Egypt, broke the record set by Colombia keeper Faryd Mondragon when he participated at Brazil 2014 at the age of 43 years and 3 days as a substitute against Japan.
But El Hadary was not happy with just being part of the game: he showed his worth by diving to his right to save a thunderous penalty from Fahad Al Muwallad, turning it onto the bar. He also made a string of other saves between conceding two late goals, one in every half.
Despite the loss, El Hadary talked to FIFA.com about his historic achievement of becoming the oldest player to appear at the tournament. "Thanks to God, this is a great achievement for Egypt more than for me personally. It’s an achievement for all Egyptians."
The veteran, who represented Egypt at the 2009 FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa added: "I’ve been the Pharaoh's goalkeeper for years, including during the qualifiers for this Word Cup. Our efforts reaped fruit and we returned to the world stage after a 28-year absence. That feat has now been crowned by my 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."
Many had believed that El Hadary, who has won four African Cup of Nations titles, would not wear the national team's shirt after 2013. But the shot-stopper was persistent, working tirelessly over the past few years and returning to protect the Pharaohs’ goal. He led Egypt to runners-up spot at the AFCON in 2017, where he also was the oldest player ever to grace the continental championship.
"God helped me crown my football career with a participation in the World Cup," said El Hadary, who began his football career at 17, in the year his country played at Italy 1990. "This in itself is an accomplishment. We must benefit from both the positive and negative aspects. There are many lessons to learn."
On the future of Egyptian football in light of the presence of many young players, the goalkeeper had this to say: "Egypt players must continue to work hard. I call on the next generation of players to work diligently to raise Egypt's profile and to view what I achieved throughout my football history as an incentive for them and an example of persistence and sacrifice."
There was a final question we tried to get El Hadary to answer, but he was content with saying: "I will make my decision (about retirement) after the World Cup. There will be many decisions concerning my long journey with this delightful game."