Nigeria Captain Played Key World Cup Match Hours After Learning His Father Was Kidnapped


John Obi Mikel, the captain of Nigeria’s World Cup soccer team, played in his team’s final, crucial match against Argentina last week hours after finding out kidnappers were holding his father hostage, he revealed on Tuesday.

Mikel didn’t tell his teammates or coaches before the game, looping in just a small group of friends outside the team, he said in a statement sent to several news organizations. He said he had been told his father would be shot immediately if he reported it to the authorities or told anyone else.

The Nigerian police rescued his father, Michael Obi, on Monday from a remote area in southeastern Nigeria, six days after Mikel received a phone call as he was headed to the stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“I was emotionally distraught but had to make a decision about whether I was mentally ready to play the game,” Mikel said in his statement. “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.

“I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first,” he said.

Mikel said on Twitter on Tuesday that his father was “now recuperating with family,” thanking the police for “ensuring the safe return of my father after the ordeal this week.”

The kidnappers demanded $28,000 for the return of Michael Obi and his driver, who had been abducted while traveling to a funeral in Enugu, the Nigerian police told The Associated Press. A police spokesman said they were rescued after a police shootout with the captors.

Michael Obi was also kidnapped in 2011, when captors demanded $4 billion in ransom from Chelsea, the Premier League club where Mikel played at the time. He was rescued after 10 days but had been severely beaten.

Kidnappings are not uncommon in Nigeria, the country where Boko Haram’s abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls shocked the world’s conscience in 2014. As many as 110 girls disappeared in February after the terrorist group conducted a militant raid on a school.

Soccer stars from other countries have also been targeted for their money. The sister of the Brazilian star Hulk was held for 24 hours in 2012, and kidnappers took the brother of Wilson Palacios, a Honduran midfielder, in 2007. His death was confirmed in 2009.

Mikel played for Chelsea, one of Britain’s biggest soccer clubs, from 2006 to 2017 before moving to Tianjin Teda in China last year.

In the World Cup game on June 26, Nigeria needed a draw to advance to the round of 16, but was eliminated after Marcos Rojo scored in the 86th minute to give Argentina a 2-1 victory.

“We did everything we could,” Mikel said after the match. “In the second half we pushed and pushed. We got the goal, we played well. It just wasn’t to be.”

Source : Nytimes