In a stunning development to Nigeria’s World Cup campaign it has been revealed that the Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel’s father Michael was kidnapped shortly before their final game against Argentina.
Mikel has admitted he was aware of his father being kidnapped before the match but insisted on leading his country in the crucial group decider where a win for Nigeria would have seen them reach the knockout stages. In the end they were beaten 2-1 by La Albiceleste.
“I was confused. I did not know what to do, but in the end I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down,” Mikel told ESPN.
“I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody.
“And I did not want to discuss it with the coach because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to the coach or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. So as much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not do it.”
2005: Mikel Obi chose Chelsea over Man Utd to house 3 other Nigerian players Chelsea had signed that same year.— Omoniyi Israel (@omoissy) July 3, 2018
2016: Mikel pays $4,000 to free Nigeria team over unpaid hotel bills.
2018: Mikel leads the team against Argentina despite father's abduction.
WE STAN A LEGEND! pic.twitter.com/ug2EG1Uug3
The good news is Mikel Snr has now been freed.
“Michael Obi, the father of the (Super) Eagles captain, has regained his freedom,” a spokesman for Enugu state police in southeast Nigeria, Ebere Amaraizu, said late Monday.
Amaraizu said the senior Obi’s captors did not hurt him after seizing him at gunpoint last Thursday evening in Enugu, but they forced him to walk for about five kilometres (three miles) barefoot in heavy rain.
He said the Eagles skipper paid a ransom of 10 million naira (about US$28,000) to obtain the release of his father, who is in his sixties. No arrest has been made but police are on the trail of the abductors, he said.
Michael Obi has been kidnapped once before, in the central city of Jos in 2011.
Kidnapping of prominent and rich people and their families is common in southern Nigeria. The victims are usually released unhurt after a ransom is paid.
The former Chelsea star has represented his country at the last two World Cups and has won 85 caps in total, scoring six goals.
Gareth Southgate‘s men might have to go all the way in Tuesday’s tough-looking last-16 clash with Colombia, putting their vulnerability from 12 yards in the spotlight.
England have lost six of their seven major tournament shootouts, with Young guilty of failing in the country’s last dalliance with spot-kicks at Euro 2012.
The Manchester United man struck the bar in the agonising 4-2 quarter-final penalty defeat to Italy, but the now 32-year-old is ready to make amends in Moscow.
“Of course I’ll put my name forward,” full-back Young said.
“I have got the confidence in my own ability to step up and take one, so if it goes to that stage then I’ll definitely be one to put my hand up and want to take one.
“Obviously we’ve worked and practised them, and I have got confidence in my own ability to be able to score one.”
Southgate knows all too well about the Three Lions’ penalty problems, having missed a crucial attempt in the Euro 96 semi-final loss to Germany.
England have been practising, studying and developing strategies for penalty shootouts since March and their manager would have no problem picking Young if it came to it.
“He’s a player, as we’ve seen, with outstanding set-play delivery and technique,” Southgate said.
“Like all the players, we’ve been through all the various drills to prepare.
“Once we get to that point, we know of our sort of ranking of players and what we’ve seen, not just with us but over the years in players who have taken more in certain matches than others.
“We’re prepared but there’s a lot of football before that point.
“Our primary focus is preparing for what happens during the flow of the game but should it come to that stage we’re ready.”
Fabian Delph has Gareth Southgate‘s full support to be at the birth of his child rather than England’s crunch World Cup clash with Colombia – although the midfielder could yet make it back to Russia if the curries kick in.
All eyes will be on the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Tuesday evening as the Three Lions attempt to win their first knockout match since 2006.
England approach the match fresh and injury-free, but their 23-man squad could well be a player light as delph flew back to the UK straight after starting last Thursday’s defeat to Belgium.
The Manchester City midfielder’s wife Natalie is expecting their third child and Southgate is fully behind his family first mindset, although the player has not given up on making the last-16 clash given by his attempts to bring on labour.
“The thought process is that some things in life are more important than football,” the England manager said. “His wife is due to go into labour.
“I’ve said all along to the players that this is a big tournament, but family is more important.
Huge respect for Fabian Delph putting family first. You will never see your first birth again and although I've never been in a world cup, being there for the birth of my son was the greatest human experience ever. #dadlife https://t.co/oZhXn9J3mw— Hai La (@larockhai) June 29, 2018
“I think it’s very important at times like this, that players who are family-orientated are supported by us.
“He has been exceptional. I mean, we’ve been so fortunate to have a squad of players whose character and spirit has formed an incredible bond.
“We’ve been away and he has been fundamental to that. I can’t speak highly enough of his character around the group.
“So he’s desperate to support us but also I think his focus needs be with his family at this time and he has my full support on that.
“He might be with us. He’s buying his wife curries and all sorts of things to try and aid the speed of process.
“But, for me, I think again it’s a bit of perspective in life because everybody says you only get one chance to be in a World Cup, but also there’s only one day in your life when your children are born.
“I know my father’s generation and those before them would view that differently, but you have got to be there for your family and that’s very important.”