PORT-GENTIL: Essam El Hadary became the oldest player ever to appear at the Africa Cup of Nations as Egypt drew 0-0 with Mali on their return to the tournament on Tuesday. The 44-year-old goalkeeper came off the bench in the first half to replace the injured Ahmed El Shennawy and beat the old mark set by compatriot Hossam Hassan, who was 39 when he played at the 2006 Cup of Nations. Otherwise, the Pharaohs’ return to Africa’s biggest stage after a seven-year absence proved to be something of an anti-climax with neither side creating many chances on a terrible playing surface in Port-Gentil. The result means Ghana are in control of Group D following their 1-0 win against Uganda earlier in the day at the same venue. Ghana meet Mali next on Saturday while Egypt face Uganda later the same day. “It was a very difficult game. In the second half we played better but our players were very tired towards the end,” said Egypt’s Argentine coach Hector Cuper.
“We would be much happier of course if we had won but this will not really change too much what we need to do in our coming games.” Egypt had not been seen at a Cup of Nations since winning a record seventh title, and third in a row, in 2010.
This was always going to be a big test for them against a Malian side who may as well have been playing at home.
The large Malian community in Port-Gentil-an oil-rich seaport perched on Gabon’s western tip-turned out to give their side colourful and vociferous backing and made up most of the crowd of 12,600. Mali might have won an early penalty when Moussa Marega was bundled over by Ali Gabr in the box but South African referee Daniel Bennett waved play on. El Shennawy then touched a Lassana Coulibaly header around the post before having to be replaced in the 25th minute by El Hadary, who celebrated his 44th birthday on Sunday.
The veteran did not have much to do and it was Egypt who had the best opportunities from then on, Tarek Hamed setting up Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny for a first-time effort that went narrowly over. Some Malian fans performed their evening prayer in the stadium concourse at half time before returning to witness a stodgy second period. Egypt could have opened the scoring on the counterattack in the 54th minute, pouncing on a fresh-air swipe by Sambou Yatabare at the other end of the field.
Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim’s cross from the left was met by a flying header from Marwan Mohsen, but Mali’s goalkeeper Oumar Sissoko produced a superb reaction stop to turn the ball over. – AFP