How Does a 45-Year-Old Goalkeeper Play at the World Cup?

How Does a 45-Year-Old Goalkeeper Play at the World Cup?

Essam El-Hadary made World Cup history on June 25 against Saudi Arabia, when he became the oldest player to ever play in the tournament. At 45 years and 161 days, El-Hadary beat Colombian keeper Faryd Mondragon’s record of 43 years and three days, which he achieved at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. While goalkeepers generally have more longevity than other players, Mondragon and especially El-Hadary, demonstrate a unique brand of goalkeeper. El-Hadary was persistent and has worked tirelessly since 1996 to protect his country’s goal, winning four African Cup of Nations in the process.

In his youth, the future Egyptian star had to hide his love of soccer from his father, who prohibited him from playing. It was his mother who encouraged him to pursue his passion, and El-Hadary found ingenious ways to hide his passion from his father. El-Hadary had three goals when he first started practicing being a goalkeeper: playing for Al Ahly SC (the top tier club in Egypt), representing the Egyptian national team and playing at the World Cup. 

Remarkably, throughout his career he managed to achieve all three goals, with the last, coming just in the nick of time when Egypt topped their qualifying group to book a spot in Russia, ending an agonizing 28-year wait. Ladbrokes reports that it was their first appearance since Italia 90, leading to scenes of mass celebration when the national team qualified. It couldn’t have come sooner for El-Hadary. Russia was his last chance to compete in a World Cup and fulfill his dream.

While some were worried that at his age he would not be able to compete at international level, El-Hadary proved them all wrong. “My age only exists in my passport,” he once declared, and while he knows that his body will not let him stay in shape forever, his daily exercise and fitness routine, devoted entirely to soccer, have helped him find top form at 45. Goal claims that El-Hadary appeared five times in qualifying and finally made his World Cup debut at the Volgograd Arena against Saudi Arabia, which was the result of over 10 years of hard work on his part.

El-Hadary has worked harder and longer than players half his age over the past decade, which has allowed him to play at top level for so long. His regimen includes intense training sessions with a personal trainer, followed by a lot of relaxation and sleep to let his aging body recover. King Fut detailed that El-Hadary’s routine also includes yoga, sauna sessions, and ice baths, which he only started doing when he turned 30. He also changed his diet, eating small meals very slowly to let his body properly digest and get used to the rhythm. 

The old adage says that goalkeepers, like a fine wine, get better with age, and El-Hadary fully embodies that statement. His dedication and determination helped him achieve his dream, and he made global headlines when he spectacularly saved Saudi Arabian Al Muwallad’s thunderous penalty. Sadly it was not enough and Egypt exited the World Cup without a win. Yet for El-Hadary, the tournament has been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and he continues to work hard and be an inspiration for many young players as an example of persistence and sacrifice.

Read more about the World Cup in Russia in our World Cup special feature on The Renegade Goalkeeper.

Written by: Allan Ackerman for

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