BY COLIN UDOH*
In the aftermath of Nigeria’s comprehensive rout of African champions Cameroon in World Cup qualifying on Friday, captain John Mikel Obi has vowed that the Super Eagles can beat any team in Africa if they play to their potential.
Mikel, along with four other experienced heads, returned to the team from injury to help mastermind the trouncing of their cross-border rivals and believes it’s just a taste of what’s to come from Gernot Rohr’s side.
“The players are very intelligent players, they listen a lot and we all work together as a team,” he told journalists in the post-match press conference. “If we continue playing this way and do what we are doing now, we can beat anyone in Africa.”
The experienced Mikel, a veteran of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations triumph, added the Super Eagles’ second goal in Uyo after setting up Odion Ighalo for the opener, and demonstrated just what an influential role he plays in Rohr’s reshaped squad.
“We have a very young team. I feel I have a responsibility every time I step on the pitch to play,” he continued. “This team needs experience, this team needs guidance.
“The players are good players, quick players but sometimes they need someone who can direct them, to make sure we have balance and that’s what we did today.
“I will do my best, I will carry this team same as I did in the Olympics,” the Tianjin TEDA midfielder continued. “I want to make sure we go to the World Cup and qualify for the Nations Cup.”
Recovering from four months on the sidelines after knee surgery, Mikel said he worked hard to be ready for the game.
“I knew I had to come back as quickly as possible,” the former Chelsea man added. “I spoke to the coach even before we lost the game against South Africa.
“We are always in contact. I told him the injury was a bad injury. I told him I would do what I can to get myself ready for this game. All I needed to do was to put my head down and just ‘work work work’…and that’s exactly what I did.
“I’m still not hundred percent yet but I promised him I would be here for this game and that’s exactly what I did. We communicate very well and the team is great.”
With three more games to go, Nigeria are one of only two teams in CAF’s World Cup qualifying programme – along with Tunisia — with a hundred percent record, but Mikel has warned Eagles fans that their team aren’t over the line just yet.
“It’s not finished yet,” the Champions League winner cautioned. “We can go to Cameroon and get a good result — draw or a win — and that’s what we want to do.”