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Essam El-Hadary: The 44-Year-Old Preparing For His World Cup Debut

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The busy intersection of 25th Avenue and Steinway Street was completely shut down due to the mass of people chanting, singing, cheering and screaming. Flags were waving high above the crowds as the police simply sat and watched. This wasn’t a riot, though; this was a party. Egypt had just qualified for their first World Cup since 1990 and in the Little Egypt of New York that was cause for celebration.

It’s always special when a nation returns to the peak of their sport after a long leave of absence. People at home and abroad unite, like they did a month ago when Mohamed Salah sealed Egypt’s place at the World Cup with a 2-1 win over Congo with his coolly taken penalty kick. Egypt finished their qualifying campaign over the weekend with a 1-1 draw in Ghana but that 95th-minute winner was the moment their fans had been waiting for.

Egypt have not been to a World Cup for 27 years, but it hasn’t always been for a lack of talent. They have won the Africa Cup of Nations four times since their previous World Cup appearance and their absence has partly been tied to political upheaval. Two domestic seasons were cancelled between 2011 and 2013 following the Port Said Stadium disaster, and the 2013 coup d’état didn’t help settle things down.

Egypt are the most successful team in Africa Cup of Nations history, and they won three successive tournaments in 2006, 2008 and 2010, but the Arab Spring in 2011 changed everything. They didn’t even qualify for the three tournaments following the revolution. It’s hard to hold together something as trivial as sport when the nation itself is crumbling.

Through these years of triumphs and disasters, there have been very few constants for Egyptian football. Coaches have been hired and fired; seasons have come and gone, some completed and some abandoned; and competitions have been won, lost or not entered at all. But there has always been one man standing there, gloves on, ready for the next challenge. And that man is 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary.

El-Hadary made his international debut in 1996, when some of his current team-mates were not even born. He was there when his country dominated Africa in the 2000s and when their prospects of fielding a successful side were derailed a few years later. He has earned 156 caps and won the African Cup of Nations four times, being picked as goalkeeper of the tournament in 2006, 2008 and 2010. And earlier this year, two days after his 44th birthday, he became the oldest player to appear in the Cup of Nations.

El-Hadary does not have long left in the game but he knows exactly what he wants to achieve with what time he has left. “I did almost everything in my footballing career,” he said earlier this year. “I won 37 trophies and I enjoyed some remarkable moments, such as our win over Italy at the 2009 Confederations Cup. The only thing that is missing for me is a World Cup appearance.” Now he has his ticket.

He was in goal for Egypt when Salah scored the winner at the Borg El-Arab Stadium last month. If he stays injury-free and retains his place, he will become the oldest player to feature at a World Cup, breaking a record last set by Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon in 2014. El-Hadary is determined to break the record in style. He isn’t a relic the team bring along for sentimentality’s sake, a veteran who is picked to be good in the dressing room and around the hotel. He started and captained Egypt throughout their qualifying campaign, only standing aside in the final fixture as their place in Russia was already secured. He is not waiting to make a cameo at the World Cup and then retire. He hopes to play into his 50s.

El-Hadary’s successes with Egypt stretch back to 1998, when he was in the squad that won the Cup of Nations. He was also on the bench in 2000, but that would be the last of this sitting business; El-Hadary was ready to stand up and play. In his first Cup of Nations as a starter, in 2002, Egypt were narrowly defeated in the quarter-finals by soon-to-be-champions Cameroon. El-Hadary finally earned his winners’ medal in 2006, just as he would do in 2008 and 2010.

With the World Cup coming to Africa for the first time in 2010, Egypt should have been one of the contenders. But, after making it to the third round of qualifying and finding themselves tied in their group with Algeria, they had to play a one-off tiebreaker in Sudan. They lost 1-0 despite launching waves of attack after conceding the opening – and only – goal of the game.

The next few years were difficult for Egypt and El-Hadary. He turned 40 in 2013 and seemed to be drifting away from the national side. When the current World Cup qualifying campaign began, he had only won five caps in three years, but he kept working and was picked for Egypt’s first two qualifiers in late 2016. Egypt won them both and El-Hadary kept his place for the rest of the campaign – and the Cup of Nations earlier this year, when he pulled off more heroics.

Going into the tournament, El-Hadary had not surrendered a goal in the Cup of Nations since 2010. That run continued through the group stages, through their quarter-final and into the semi-final against Burkina Faso, where a 73rd-minute strike by Aristide Bancé ended the 653 scoreless minutes El-Hadary had carried with him over seven years of Afcon play.

There was no time for him to mourn the end of his streak, though. The game went to penalties and, with Egypt in danger of losing the shootout, he had to do something. El-Hadry did what was asked of him, saving two penalties in a row to send Egypt to the final. They were beaten by Cameroon in the final, but all is not lost: Egypt still have the World Cup, where El-Hadary will hopefully break a record or two and accomplish a lifelong dream.

Credit: The Guardian 

Source: www.ghanasportsonline.com

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Ibrahimovic will start with bench role, says Mourinho

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At least initially, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be used off the bench for Manchester United.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have to settle for a spot off the bench to begin his return from injury, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said.

Ibrahimovic, 36, is set to make his comeback from a serious knee injury when Mourinho’s men host Newcastle United in the Premier League Saturday.

The Swede may have to battle with Romelu Lukaku for a starting spot, but Mourinho said Ibrahimovic would be used off the bench – at least initially.

« As a start, I see him on the bench and it’s where I see him, » the Portuguese tactician said.

« It’s where he’s going to be [Saturday], on the bench. »

« Zlatan, he’s a very important player for us and of course, we welcome him back, » says the boss. « He has incredible personality to fight such an injury. » #MUFC pic.twitter.com/XZOuau166n

— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 17, 2017

Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals in 46 games in all competitions for United last season before his injury, and he decided to re-sign for another campaign at Old Trafford.

While the arrival of Lukaku may reduce Ibrahimovic’s game time, Mourinho believes the pair could play together.

« This season we played so many times with two strikers, » he said.

« We played so many times, especially when we played three at the back and the wing backs, we brought the second man to the centre so we can do it.

« We are ready to do it and we prepared ourselves since pre-season.

« In pre-season we started doing three in the back already, so they can play together. »

Source: www.besoccer.com

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Championship Review: Sheffield United go top

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Sheffield United are top of the Championship, while Bolton Wanderers are now unbeaten in six matches.

Billy Sharp scored twice as Sheffield United moved back to the top of the Championship with a 3-1 victory at Burton Albion on Friday.

Sharp netted the opener from the spot in the 10th minute after being brought down by Kyle McFadzean, before Matt Palmer equalised for the hosts with a 25-yard strike.

The Blades captain converted a Mark Duffy delivery to restore the lead three minutes later, and Leon Clarke wrapped up the win with a second-half header, having earlier hit the post.

The result moves Chris Wilder’s men a point clear of Wolves at the summit, with the deposed leaders set to travel to Reading on Saturday, although their joy was tempered by an injury – thought to be a broken leg – that saw Paul Coutts taken to hospital.

The Blades are victorious in Friday night’s encounter at the Pirelli Stadium #twitterblades #sufc #forgedinsteel pic.twitter.com/ZKn252cBae

— Sheffield United (@SUFC_tweets) November 17, 2017

Burton, meanwhile, have now lost five consecutive home matches and sit one point clear of the relegation zone.

Bolton Wanderers, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to climb out of the drop zone after being held to a goalless draw by Preston North End at Deepdale.

Source: www.besoccer.com

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Schurrle: Dortmund couldn’t deal with Stuttgart counter-attacks

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Borussia Dortmund made it three Bundesliga defeats in a row against Stuttgart, something Andre Schurrle blamed on a failure to « dominate ».

Andre Schurrle felt Borussia Dortmund paid the price for a lack of dominance and a susceptibility to counter-attacks in their 2-1 loss to Stuttgart.

Peter Bosz’s side suffered their third Bundesliga defeat in a row at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Friday, with Chadrac Akolo and Josip Brekalo scoring for the hosts either side of a Maximilian Philipp strike following a missed Schurrle penalty.

Schurrle, starting a league game for the first time this season in place of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was dropped for a breach of discipline, felt Dortmund responded well to the blow of Akolo’s fifth-minute opener but should have done more with their first-half chances.

The former Chelsea man also called on his team-mates to improve their defensive organisation in order to stop other teams exploiting them on the break.

« I think we played a good game, especially in the first half after the almost own-goal, » he said immediately after the match. « We came back strong, had good control and played some good football. But we need to score more goals.

« In the second half, we didn’t dominate the game as we wanted. It went from in front of their goal to the other goal and, as Borussia Dortmund, you can’t let the game happen like this. We have to dominate and work the ball. We can’t give them so many good chances. »

1 – Josip #Brekalo is the first Croatian player to score for @VfB_int in the #Bundesliga since Zvonimir Soldo back in 2005. Nostalgia. #VfBBVB pic.twitter.com/H84X39Y1gb

— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) November 17, 2017

Dortmund lost Sokratis Papastathopoulos at half-time but Schurrle refused to blame Stuttgart’s second goal on replacement Dan-Axel Zagadou, who failed to stop the run of Brekalo.

« Dan came in and played a really good game, » he said. « But when you’re as open as we are, and they play so many counter-attacks, it’s difficult to win games. »

Dortmund now face a daunting run of fixtures, with their Champions League fate to be decided against Tottenham and Real Madrid amid league games against fierce rivals Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen.

Schurrle, however, sees it as a chance to show the Dortmund fans the team is prepared to fight to improve.

« It’s a good opportunity. It’s the most important game for our fans and you saw they were behind us but were very frustrated at the end and disappointed with us, » he added.

« We need to go back, work on our shape, build some stamina and then go and play in the Champions League and the derby. »

Source: www.besoccer.com

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