Egypt’s 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary celebrated becoming the oldest player in Africa Cup of Nations history with a clean sheet as his side played out a goalless Group D draw with Mali in Port Gentil.
El-Hadary started on the bench, but an apparent shoulder injury for Ahmed El-Shenawy handed him his moment of history midway through the first period.
A four-time winner of this tournament, the 148-cap veteran will have been pleased by the lack of work sent his way by an industrious Mali side, who made most of the early running but lacked a clinical touch to match their endeavours.
Since the last of El-Hadary’s AFCON titles in 2010, Egypt have failed to qualify and, although star man Mohamed Salah failed to shine, head coach Hector Cuper will be pleased to have a point on the board after Ghana edged past Uganda in the section’s opening match earlier on Tuesday.
Lassana Coulibaly almost gave Mali a 13th-minute lead, when El-Shenawy scrambled to claw his glancing header behind.
Unfortunately for the Zamalek goalkeeper, he injured himself in the process of making the save and was forced to withdraw, clearing the way for El-Hadary to claim a piece of history.
20 – Egypt are unbeaten in their last 20 AFCON games (W15 D5), best run ever in the competition. Strong.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) January 17, 2017
Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny sought to push a lacklustre Egypt forward and sent a rasping drive narrowly over, while El-Hadary successfully cleared danger with his first punch before seeing Molla Wague head wide from Sambou Yatabare’s 29th-minute corner.
Coulibaly misjudged his effort from Bakary Sako’s cross as Mali continued to pump balls into the Egypt box and they were unable to find a way through before the interval.
Alain Giresse’s side resumed on the front foot, sometimes seeming overly keen to ask questions of El-Hadary, and they were indebted to a flying save from their own keeper Oumar Sissoko when Marwan Mohsen met Trezeguet’s excellent ball in from the left.
Injury also forced Giresse into his first change, with Yves Bissouma introduced in place of Werder Bremen’s Sambou Yatabare.
Mali’s earlier intensity had fallen away as the players entered the final 20 minutes in sapping humidity, with Egypt’s technical qualities edging to the fore.
Nevertheless, Cuper decided star man Salah should be risked no more on a night where a booking was his most notable contribution.
Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi replaced the Roma star, but had no greater luck in attempting to illuminate the contest.
Ousmane Coulibaly should have done better when he glanced over from Salif Coulibaly’s flick-on, but a second wind for Mali did not result in them beating El-Hadary.
The seasoned campaigner sprung from his goal to take the ball off Moussa Marega’s toe five minutes from time, crowning a night that will at least live long in his memory.