If you thought John Obi Mikel put in an impressive shift for Nigeria against Argentina in the group stage tie between the two sides, then just wait until you hear the unbelievably stressful conditions under which he was secretly playing.
In a story broken by Colin Udoh for KweseESPN, Mikel revealed that mere hours before kick-off in St. Petersburg, he received a call from a gang of kidnappers to inform the Super Eagles captain that they were holding his father, Pa Michael Obi, for ransom.
The criminals snatched Pa Obi while he was travelling by car to attend a funeral in south-eastern Nigeria. They then phoned Mikel to demand 10 million Nigerian naira (approx £21,100) for his father’s safe release.
Both Pa Obi and his driver were later rescued by police following a “gun duel”, almost a full week after their kidnapping, before being taken to hospital for treatment to wounds their captors had inflicted.
Speaking to KweséESPN, Mikel, who refused to tell his coach, teammates or the Nigerian Football Federation about his plight, recounted the harrowing ordeal:
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. 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.
Nigeria went on to lose the match 2-1 and were knocked out of the World Cup, with Mikel flying back to his home in England almost immediately after the match to deal with the unfolding crisis.
Can you even imagine the state he must have been in internally? Suddenly, a entirely new wave of admiration for his captain’s innings against Lionel Messi and co. has just washed over us.