By Gerald Imray, AP Sports Writer
Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel played in a crucial World Cup match against Argentina four hours after being told his father had been kidnapped for ransom back home and would be shot if anyone talked to the police.
“I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first,” Mikel said.
Mikel decided to hide the news from his teammates and coach so as not to destabilize the team and went ahead and played the game in Russia, the midfielder said in a statement released by his management company on Tuesday.
Mikel’s father, Michael Obi, was rescued from armed kidnappers by Nigerian police following a shootout in a remote, forest area in southeastern Nigeria on Monday, nearly a week after his abduction.
That allowed the player to talk about the incident publicly.
Police said Michael Obi, who was rescued along with his driver, had “recovered from the trauma of the kidnap.”
In a post on his official Twitter account later Tuesday, Mikel said his father was “recuperating with family.”
It was the second time Michael Obi had been kidnapped in Nigeria.
Mikel said he received a telephone call in St. Petersburg last Tuesday telling him of his father’s abduction as the Nigeria team was heading to the stadium to play in the World Cup against Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Nigeria lost 2-1 after a late Argentina goal and was eliminated from the World Cup as a result. Mikel played the whole game knowing that his father was in serious danger.
“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.