Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, at 44, eyes record AFCON win
GABON -- A goalkeeper's career often lasts longer than his teammates, but gunning for a major continental title at the age of 44 seems somewhat far-fetched.
Yet Essam El Hadary is not only setting new records for longevity but also looking to become the most successful footballer in African history. On Wednesday, he will earn his 150th cap for his country -- having debuted in a friendly against South Korea in 1996 -- when Egypt take on Burkina Faso in the first semifinal at the African Nations Cup in Gabon.
The match at Libreville's Stade l'Amitie could put El Hadary one step closer to claiming an astonishing fifth Nations Cup winners' medal while extending his record as the tournament's oldest player at 44 years and 17 days.
The goalkeeper from Wadi Degla was in the squad that won in 1998, understudy to Nader El Sayed, and first-choice when Egypt took an unprecedented triple of crowns back-to-back from 2006-2010.
Having missed the last three editions, this is the first time they have qualified for the finals since. The side are now hungry to make amends and, though El Hadari straddles different generations of the Egyptian team, he says there is no marked difference between the current class and his colleagues of the past.
"Everyone is comparing the team to the older generation. Each generation has a personality and character of its own," he told reporters. "The generation of players with whom I played in the past, and with whom I won four Nations Cups, were a talented crop who grew in experience year after year and who played together for such a long time that success was inevitable.
"This new generation is still gaining that experience but I find they have the same determination and stamina."
El Hadary has a daughter almost as old as the squad's youngest player, Ramadan Sobhi of Stoke City, who turned 20 a week ago. But a generation gap is largely absent, he insists.
"I tell them the stories of our past success; on how we did it, how we won." he said. "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.
"We are a team and I'm always hanging around with the others. It's my job to give them advice but my job as captain of the team, not because I'm a much older person. I don't make them feel the gap in age and they don't either."
El Hadary and former teammate Ahmed Hassan hold the record for four Nations Cup victories but the goalkeeper will mark his name in the record books alone if the Pharaohs triumph in both Wednesday's semifinal and Sunday's final.
"I'm happy to be in contention for all of these records but the most important is for Egypt to win the cup," he added. "If we win the title, then the record will pass to me and I will be grateful. But I've never worried about my personal records. The country comes first, then the record book."
Mark Gleeson covers African football for ESPN FC.