Who's remaining from Egypt's golden generation? Keep an eye on the age-defying stars

Ahram Online takes a look at the players remaining from Egypt's 'golden generation' before the Pharaohs begin their African Cup of Nations campaign on Tuesday

Hatem Maher , Friday 13 Jan 2017,
Ahmed Fathi
Ahmed Fathi remains one of Egypt's key players (Reuters)

When Egypt failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, it was time for some veterans to hang up their international boots because they no longer felt motivated to carry on, citing the disappointment of not achieving their prime target.

Among those stars were Mohamed Abou-Treika, a classic playmaker who is widely regarded as one of the best players in Egypt's history, and rock-solid defender Wael Gomaa, best known for keeping at bay the likes of Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba, among other fearsome strikers in Africa.

"I lived and carried on playing for that dream: Appearing at the World Cup," Gomaa told FIFA.com after announcing his retirement from international football.

"I won everything with Egypt and Ahly; that was the only thing missing. I took part in the 2010 qualifiers and continued to play until the end of the 2014 qualifiers for that reason," added the bald-headed defender, lamenting what would have been had Egypt reached the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Others felt they still had something to prove as Egypt embarked on another shot at elusive World Cup and Nations Cup appearances, determined to end a period of football stagnation.

Goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who turns 44 this month, stands out among this group with a never-say-day attitude as he prepares for a seventh Nations Cup appearance in Gabon, where he is set to become the oldest player in the tournament's history.

He also made no secret of his desire to set a similar record at the World Cup should Egypt make it to the 2018 Russia finals.

"I will fight to reach the World Cup," said El-Hadary earlier this year, before leading Egypt to two crucial World Cup qualifying wins over Congo and Ghana after producing some superb reflex saves that stand in stark contrast to his age.

"I don't care about my age; I train like I am 20 years old."

El-Hadary was even a regular member of Egypt's squad before the golden generation of the Pharaohs dominated Africa from 2006 to 2010, which he was also an integral member of.

He was instrumental in steering the team to an unprecedented hat-trick of Nations Cup triumphs and realized there was no point crying over spilt milk when Egypt stunningly failed to qualify for their favourite tournament three consecutive times in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Despite being snubbed for long during that period, he showed admirable patience and picked himself up to tempt Argentinean coach Hector Cuper into not only recalling him but also making him his first-choice goalie before the Gabon finals.

One-on-one expert

The defensive attributes of Ahmed Fathi, another age-defying player who is still performing at the top level at 32, made him an ever-present member of Egypt's starting line-up since he made his debut in 2002.

He was also key part of the Nations Cup winning squads in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and his recent displays earned him wide acclaim as he is set to be Egypt's regular right-back in Gabon, with Basel's Omar Gaber likely to be his understudy.

Ahly's versatile defender Fathi, who made over 100 international appearances, is a one-on-one expert who has drawn plaudits when he kept in check Ghana's Christian Atsu, who is eight years younger than him, as Egypt secured a vital 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory in November.

 "We have a tough task ahead of us at the Nations Cup and we are in a very tough group, but we are determined to make Egyptians happy again following our win over Ghana," Fathi said in a television interview.

"We only aim high, we are targeting the title but we will still take it one match at a time."

Other experienced players in Egypt's roster are Hull City right wing-back Ahmed Elmohamady and Ahli Jeddah full-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, both of whom were also present when Egypt won their last Nations Cup title in 2010.

Elmohamady has been mainly confined to a bit-part role under Cuper but at least he managed to earn a call-up for the 2017 edition after being overlooked for long while Abdel-Shafi remains Egypt's only reliable left-back.

With El-Hadary, Fathi, Elmohamady and Abdel-Shafi being the only Egyptian players left with Nations Cup experience, their presence will be an asset to a largely youthful side that aims to restore the glory days of the record seven-time African champions.

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