Glowing tributes have continued to pour in following Tuesday’s announcement by Mikel Obi about his retirement from professional football after 20 years.
“What they say has a beginning must definitely have an end.”
Those were the words of Mikel as he joined the long list of ex-internationals like Joseph Yobo, Vincent Enyeama and others to bid farewell to active football after serving clubs and country meritoriously.
The career of the Jos-born midfielder which started in Nigeria transcended to Europe where Mikel featured for one of the most reputable English clubs, Chelsea.
As expected, there were tons of reactions after Mikel dropped his retirement statement on his Instagram page with the likes of John Terry, Odion Ighalo, and Augustine Eguavoen leading the line.
Mikel, 35, rightly feels accomplished and while thanking those who supported him all through his playing career, hinted a new chapter is set to begin.
“I look back at the past 20 years of my career, and I must say that I am very satisfied with all that I was able to achieve and more importantly the human it has helped shape.
“All of this would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my family, managers, clubs, coaches, teammates and most importantly my ever-loyal fans. You supported me through my highs and lows, even on days that I did not live up to your expectations. I say a big thank you.
“I will also like to encourage everyone who I may have inspired one way or the other in the course of my career to never give up on their dreams, for every time you think about quitting, remind yourself why you started.
This is not goodbye, it’s the start of another journey, another chapter of my life. I look forward to what the future holds and I hope you will walk with me. Thank you.”
The emotion-laden words of Mikel raised teary farewells from top sporting figures and fans around the world.
As of the time of filing this report, Mikel’s retirement post already had over 85,000 likes and 5,000 comments with the majority congratulating the former Super Eagles skipper.
A very popular one was from the former Chelsea captain, John Terry, who welcomed Mikel to the retirement club.
“@mikel_john_obi 💙 What a great career my friend, it was a pleasure to play and share the dressing room with you. Love you Georgie Boy💙⚽️.”
The Nigerian did respond by appreciating the English ex-international for being a true leader.
[email protected] Thanks Georgie boy 😁 love ya old boy. You made us winners in that dressing room. And loads of banter 👌😂🙏 thank you 💙”
Not only Terry, the likes of Fellipe Luiz, Salamon Kalou and Gary Cahil who were members of the historic 2012 Champions League winning set also congratulated Mikel.
Salomonkalou V OGaaaaaaaaaaaa. I dey miss u Baba Thank u for that wonderful journey 💙💙 . Ps I fancy well well that 1st foto obina🥇
Filipeluis Congrats on your AMAZING career my friend.
It was an honour to play with you. ❤️
Garyjcahill V Congratulations on an amazing career mate, pleasure to play alongside you. Enjoy your retirement. 👏🙌🙌
A popular Chelsea fan, Khalid Frank, also appreciated the Nigerian for the years spent at Stamford Bridge.
Frankkhaliduk 💙💙💙💙💙💙Accordingly, Mikel’s teammates in the national team were also on hand to wish him well.
The likes of Odion Ighalo, Ogeniyi Onazi, who played in the midfield alongside Mikel, Oghenekaro Etebo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Jamilu Collins and others all had kind words for Mikel
Ighalojude Congrats skippo and good luck 🙌🏾💙🙏🏾
Onaziogenyi Ahhh skippo I miss you sha.. LEGEND 🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿
Collinsjamilu Enjoy your retirement skippo 🙏🏿
kelechi72 Congrats on a wonderful career
Legend Skippo friend brother
All the best for the future
❤️❤️ Obi O’gba ball
Mikel’s former coach in the national team, Austin Eguavoen, also congratulated Mikel on his achievement.
Austineguavoen Congratulations on your retirement, John Mikel Obi.
An honor coaching you at the FIFA U17 World Cup 2003, AFCON 2006 🥉 & AFCON 2008. 🇳🇬
You played it all, and won it all. 🏆
Enjoy the good life. 🥂
Undeniably, Mikel Obi is one of the most successful Nigerian players ever.
At Chelsea where he made 372 appearances, he won all the major trophies including the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.
For Nigeria, Mikel is an Olympic medalist and also won the Africa Cup of Nations, among other silverware.
World Cup: We’re not scared of Messi – Australia confident ahead of last-16 clash
Kayode Sanni Arewa
Australia players have insisted they are not afraid of Lionel Messi as they prepare for their last-16 clash in the 2022 World Cup.
They, however, admitted their admiration for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Australia qualified thanks to a 1-0 win over Denmark.
The Socceroos will now take on Messi and co on Saturday evening for a place in the quarter-final.
“I always loved Messi and I think he is the greatest to ever play the game.
“[But] it’s not an honour to play against him because he’s just a human, as we all are.
“It’s an honour to be in the round of 16 of a World Cup. Whether we played Argentina or we’d have played against Poland, it still would have been an honour to represent Australia in the round of 16 of a World Cup,” defender Milos Degenek said.
Japan beats Spain 2-1 as both teams advance at World Cup
After beating Germany in the team’s opener, Japan worked its way into the round of 16 of the World Cup on Thursday by defeating Spain 2-1 — the same score as last week.
Spain also advanced despite the loss, knocking Germany out of the tournament.
Japan scored twice early in the second half to come from behind and defeat another European powerhouse and make it to the knockout stage for the second straight World Cup. It’s the first time Japan has advanced past the group stage in back-to-back tournaments.
“For Asia and for Japan, our victories over Spain and Germany, two of the top teams in the world, is something that give us great confidence and we are very pleased,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “Of course, there are many things we still have to learn, but Asia can win in the world stage, Japan can win in the world stage.”
Ao Tanaka scored the winning goal from close range early in the second half. It took about two minutes for video review officials to confirm the ball hadn’t gone out of bounds before the goal at Khalifa International Stadium, where Japan had shocked Germany in its opener.
Players from both teams looked surprised when it was announced that the goal counted, and the Japanese started running toward their bench again to celebrate with their teammates.
“From my angle I think the ball was clearly half out, but more than that I could not see because of the speed,” Tanaka said. “I was concentrating in scoring. There was always a possibility that it was out … But in the end it was a goal, so that was great.”
Japan finished at the top of Group E and will next face Croatia. Spain will take on Group F winner Morocco.
Spain and Germany — which beat Costa Rica 4-2 in a simultaneous match — both had four points in the group. But Spain had a superior goal difference.
The group standings bounced back and forth during both matches. Costa Rica was beating Germany at one point. If that result had stood, Costa Rica would have eliminated Spain.
Spain coach Luis Enrique said he didn’t know that at one point Costa Rica was winning.
“If I had known about it, I could have had a heart attack,” he said.
Álvaro Morata scored for Spain in the 11th minute and the 2010 champions were in control until Japan rallied after halftime. Ritsu Doan equalized in the 48th with a left-footed shot from outside the box and Tanaka added the second three minutes later.
Luis Enrique said Spain “got into collapse mode.”
“We totally lost control during those five minutes. We panicked,” Luis Enrique said. “If they had to score more goals, they would have been able to do it. They got past us like an airplane.”
Morata became the first Spain player to score in the team’s first three matches at the World Cup since Telmo Zarra in 1950.
Spain had opened with a 7-0 rout of Costa Rica before conceding late in a 1-1 draw against Germany.
Japan, which lost to Costa Rica in its second match, was eliminated by Belgium in the last 16 four years ago in Russia. The Japanese have never gotten past the round of 16 at the World Cup.
By finishing second in the group, Spain may avoid facing Brazil in the quarterfinals and Argentina in the semifinals.
“There is nothing to celebrate,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m not happy. We wanted to finish in first place with a victory.”
The coach said he was surprised that the second goal by Japan was confirmed by VAR. He said he was shown a photo of the ball out of bounds.
“That photo they showed me must have been altered,” Luis Enrique said. “That’s the only explanation.”
Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw
Romelu Lukaku missed a string of late chances as Belgium crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage after a 0-0 draw with Croatia on Thursday which sent the 2018 runners-up into the knockout phase.
Roberto Martinez announced after the game he was stepping down as Belgium coach after a six-year spell in charge.
Croatia had a penalty award controversially cancelled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half.
The introduction of Lukaku at the interval changed the game, but he was guilty of three dreadful misses as Zlatko Dalic’s side rode their luck to hold on.
Croatia progressed as runners-up in Group F behind winners Morocco who beat Canada 2-1 to also qualify for the last 16.
The Croatians will face the winners of Group E, containing Spain, Germany, Japan and Costa Rica, for a quarter-final place.
“We had some chances against us but it didn’t change our mindset,” said coach Dalic. “We were lucky they didn’t take their chances.”
Belgium, the world’s second-ranked side, saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end.
Martinez’s men managed just one goal in the tournament in a fortunate opening 1-0 win over Canada.
It may have been the final chance for several of their ageing stars to win a major title.
“Today, if we would’ve gone through I think we would’ve seen the real Belgium and could’ve been very competitive in the next rounds,” said Martinez, whose contract was due to run out after the World Cup.
Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench as one of four changes which also saw Leandro Trossard and Dries Mertens start for the first time in Qatar.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by rumours of an altercation between senior Belgian players, involving Eden Hazard, which Martinez described as “fake news”.
Croatia almost took the lead inside the first 10 seconds, as the ball was played forward to Ivan Perisic after kick-off and the Tottenham man cut inside and drilled a shot just wide of the far post.
The likelihood of Belgium needing to win was increased when Morocco scored an early goal across Doha. Yannick Carrasco had a chance to open the scoring but his shot was blocked.
Mertens curled over after a trademark Kevin De Bruyne run and pass, before Croatia were awarded a penalty seconds later when Carrasco tripped Andrej Kramaric in the box.
But the decision was overturned following a lengthy VAR check which detected that a tiny fraction of Dejan Lovren’s shoulder was offside.
Desperate for the goal which would have sent them through after a first half in which neither side mustered a shot on target, Martinez sent on Lukaku, Belgium’s record scorer, for Mertens at half-time.
They immediately carried more threat, with Lukaku, who struggled with injury in the lead-up to the tournament, heading straight at Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Thibaut Courtois was then called into action for the first time, stretching to tip over Mateo Kovacic’s curling effort as the game opened up.
That also suited the Croatian attackers though and Courtois had to twice get down to keep out low shots from Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric.
Belgium should have taken the lead on the hour mark.
Carrasco almost bundled the ball in but was denied by Livakovic, before Lukaku contrived to hit the post with the goal gaping on the rebound.
Lukaku was guilty of an even worse miss two minutes later, heading over an empty net from six yards out, although replays suggested the ball may have been out of play when De Bruyne crossed it in.
Martinez also threw on Thorgan Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Jeremy Doku as Belgium searched for that all important goal.
Lukaku saw another chance come and go in the 87th minute, deflecting the ball wide from Thomas Meunier’s volley.
The striker, on loan at Inter Milan from Chelsea, still had another golden opportunity to be the hero, but he opted to chest the ball towards the open net from three yards out and directed it into the grateful arms of Livakovic.
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