Nigerian captain John Obi Mikel has revealed that he learned his father had been kidnapped just hours before the player was due to face Argentina in their crunch World Cup game last week.
Mikel was told by a family member of the kidnapping while on the way to Saint Petersburg Stadium as the Nigeria team prepared to face Argentina in their final Group D match in Russia last Tuesday.
His father, Pa Michael Obi, was abducted by armed men in Nigeria as he traveled to a funeral, and the player was ordered to pay a ransom for his release, according to the Guardian.
Nigerian police were later able to secure the man’s release, although Mikel told the Guardian his father had been tortured.
Mikel played the full 90 minutes in the game, which Nigeria lost 2-1 after a late winner from Marcus Rojo, which sent the Argentinians into the last 16 at the Super Eagles’ expense.
The Nigeria captain said he had gone into the crucial game under intense emotional pressure.
“I played while my father was in the hands of bandits,” Mikel told the Guardian. “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 I 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 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."
The former Chelsea player, 31, also said he had not been able to inform the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) over the ordeal.
“I could not even 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 with the coach, I could not.”
Pa Michael Obi was released on Monday, and is now receiving treatment for the injuries he suffered during his torture, the player said.
He was also kidnapped in 2011, when he was freed by police after being held captive for three months.
John Obi Mikel currently plays his club football in China for Tianjin TEDA, where he moved after spending a decade at Chelsea.