ABUJA • John Obi Mikel was told that his father had been kidnapped and would be killed if he reported anything - just hours before he led Nigeria into their final World Cup group phase tie against Argentina.
The Nigeria captain received the shocking news as he travelled on the team bus to the stadium in St Petersburg last Tuesday.
A family member called him and told him that he had to call the kidnappers on a designated number. When Mikel did so, he was ordered to pay a ransom.
The 31-year-old revealed that he could not confide in anyone at the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) - partly because he did not want to be a distraction before the game - and how he asked himself whether he had the strength to play.
Pa Michael Obi was abducted at gunpoint in south-east Nigeria as he travelled to a funeral along the Makurdi-Enugu expressway from the city of Jos. Nigerian police were able to secure his release but he said he was tortured during a week-long ordeal and is receiving emergency treatment in hospital. It was his second kidnapping, with the first one in August 2011 .
Mikel tried to put the trauma to one side and played the 90 minutes against Argentina.
Nigeria lost 2-1 to a late Marcus Rojo goal to exit the tournament. A 1-1 draw would have seen them qualify for the last 16.
"I played while my father was in the hands of bandits," said the former Chelsea midfielder. "I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kick-off to tell me what had happened.
"I was emotionally distraught and had to make the decision about whether I was mentally ready to play. I was confused. I did not know what to do but, in the end, I could not let 180 million Nigerians down. I had to shut it out of my head, and go and represent my country. I could not inform the coaches or NFF 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. I also did not want to discuss it with the coach (Gernot Rohr) because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to him or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. As much as I wanted to discuss it, I could not.
"Thankfully, my father was safely released on Monday afternoon. I thank the police for their rescue efforts, and the support I've received from friends and family members."
The spokesman for Enugu state police, Ebere Amaraizu, said Mikel paid a ransom of 10 million naira (S$37,819) to obtain the release of his father. No arrests have been made but police investigations are under way.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE