Nige­ria cap­tain hid dad’s ab­duc­tion, played World Cup match

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By GER­ALD IMRAY

NIZHNY NOV­GOROD,Rus­sia (AP) - 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.” Twit­ter Ads info and pri­vacy

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 the­World 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.

“I could not even in­form the coaches or NFF (Nige­ria Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion) staff, and only a very tight cir­cle of ... my friends knew. I was told that they would shoot my dad in­stantly if I re­ported to the au­thor­i­ties or told any­body.”

The kidnappers de­manded a ran­som of $28,000 for Mikel’s fa­ther, ac­cord­ing to Nige­rian po­lice in the south­east­ern state where his fa­ther was res­cued.

But po­lice spokesman Ebere Amaraizu told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Michael Obi was res­cued along with his driver af­ter a shootout and no ran­som was paid. The two men had been held by the kidnappers for nearly a week af­ter be­ing ab­ducted on a road while trav­el­ing from the cen­tral city of Jos to a fu­neral in the south­east­ern state of Enugu.

Kid­nap­pings for ran­som tar­get­ing fam­ily mem­bers of wealthy peo­ple are com­mon in Nige­ria, an oil-rich na­tion of nearly 200 mil­lion peo­ple and Africa’s most pop­u­lous coun­try.

Mikel, one of Nige­ria’s most suc­cess­ful play­ers, was at Chelsea in the Premier League from 2006-17. He moved to Chi­nese club Tian­jin Teda last year.

His fa­ther was also kid­napped in 2011,when the kidnappers de­manded a $4 bil­lion ran­som from Chelsea.

On that oc­ca­sion, Michael Obi was kid­napped in Jos and res­cued in the north­ern city of Kano, 190 miles away, 10 days later.

Mikel said he des­per­ately wanted to talk about his fa­ther’s lat­est kid­nap­ping with Nige­ria coach Ger­not Rohr at the World Cup but thought it would up­set the team, and so kept quiet.

“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,” Mikel said.“So as much as I wanted to dis­cuss it with the coach, I could not do it. Thank­fully he (Mikel’s fa­ther) is now safely re­leased.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF DARKO VOJINOVIC

Mikel waves to sup­port­ers af­ter the 2-0 win over Ice­land at the World Cup.

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