Essam El-Hadary to become oldest player to feature at a World Cup… but Egypt keeper is not the only golden oldie goalie to grace the tournament


As Egypt’s 45-year old Essam El-Hadary prepares to take his bow as the tournament’s oldest player, here’s a look at those golden oldie goalies who were pushing 40 in previous tournaments


Zoff remains the oldest World Cup winner at 40 in 1982 when the Italians beat West Germany 3-1 in the final. During the epic second phase match with Brazil, won 3-2 by Italy through a Paolo Rossi hat-trick, Zoff made what he thought was a save from Oscar in the dying seconds on the line. He recalls: “All the Brazilians were celebrating. There followed four or five seconds of abject fear. Only then did the referee see that it wasn’t a goal. Because of that, I calmed down.”


It is 32 years since Northern Ireland graced a World Cup finals. In 1986, Arsenal legend Pat Jennings was celebrating his 41st birthday and 119th and final game when he played Brazil in the country’s final group game in Guadalajara. The veteran kept the score down to three as the Northern Irish struggled to keep Socrates and company at bay. Jennings was beaten by an absolute screamer by Josimar from 35 yards but joked: “If I had wings I wouldn’t have saved that one!”


The veteran got his chance during the ill-fated Camp Capello South African campaign of 2010 after Rob Green gave the USA an Independence Day gift three weeks in advance when letting Clint Dempsey’s tame shot through his hands. James kept a clean sheet for the last two group games as England stumbled through to play Germany in the last 16 at Bloemfontein. His age (39) and relegation woes with Portsmouth then showed as England’s performances resembled a Hackney Marshes team in the Highveld. James was technically at fault for three of the goals although he insisted: “The frustration is that we defended well and they have scored three goals on counter attacks which has killed the game.”

David James England


The big Colombian couldn’t keep out David Beckham’s free kick in 1998 and broke down in tears at the end of the game as David Seaman consoled him. The 16 years between that performance and his cameo in 2014, when he replaced David Ospina for the last five minutes in the 4-1 win over Japan, represented a record and also made him the tournament’s oldest player at 43 years and three days.  The keeper thanked his manager Jose Pekerman: “If it wasn’t for him, I would have retired two years ago. I feel privileged to be here, it was my best birthday ever.”


Captain at 40 in the 1990 run to the semis against Germany – there were 17 years between him and German keeper Bodo Ilgner – Shilts was a fitness freak and a perfectionist, which went a long way to extending his international caps to 125. At 47, he was still turning out for Leyton Orient . Even so, he was no Pepe Reina at saving penalties. Those German spot-kicks were past him before he even moved.


At 37, the Black Spider helped Russia claim fourth place in the 66 World Cup. Yashin redefined the art of goalkeeping, making the penalty area his own. He didn’t have to bother with the gym for a pre-match warm up either: “The trick is to smoke a cigarette to calm your nerves and then take a big swig of strong liquor to tone your muscles.”


In the final group game against Brazil in Turin in 1990, the gap-toothed goalkeeper failed to hold a shot by Careca and Scotland were eliminated from the tournament. Eight years later at France 98, Leighton was just weeks away from his 40th year when he lined up against the South Americans again. Scotland were exceeding all expectation as the holders were being held 1-1 until, with only 15 minutes left, Big Jim made a save from Cafu that struck the hapless Tom Boyd and rolled agonisingly into the net. 

Jim Leighton


The unfancied Tunisians were in wonderland, leading Spain for 63 minutes in the group stage in 2006, before 40-year-old Boumnijel pushed a weak Cesc Fabregas shot back to Raul to give Spain a way back into the game. He then went walkabout, forlornly chasing a Fabregas through ball that allowed Fernando Torres to round him. It was a sad follow-up to his heroics in 2004 when he had helped Tunisia win the African Nations Cup, saving a crucial penalty from Nigeria’s Peter Odemwingie in a semi-final penalty shootout.


Bell was in the Cameroon squad for the 1982 and Italia 90 finals but didn’t play. He finally got his chance at USA 94 at 39 but after being thumped by Brazil 3-0 the outspoken keeper led a players’ rebellion over unpaid bonuses and salaries. “I decided it might give the team more peace if I don’t play anymore,” Bell said. Voted best African keeper of the century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind: “When I stop a shot, I am a star. When I push my trolley around a supermarket, I am just a black man.”


The baby of the list, Chilavert was in many ways the star of the 1998 World Cup. Who could forget his face down in the grass after being beaten by a golden goal against the hosts and his “lucky charm” medallion honouring the Madonna (no, not that one)  on the grass inside his goal.  He was voted in the All-Star Team of that tourney. Four years later, at the tender age of 37, he was back, taking another of his mean free-kicks. After all, he scored 54 goals in his career and was a Beckham-like dead ball specialist.

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