Nigeria stars Odion Ighalo and John Obi Mikel are retiring from international football.
Sources told ESPN FC that Ighalo, whose goal helped Nigeria to beat Tunisia 1-0 in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Bronze Final on Wednesday night, informed coach Gernot Rohr of his decision before the match and then left to join his club in China immediately after the game.
“After the game, [Ighalo] gave his jersey as a souvenir to the coach, said his goodbyes and left,” a source said.
Ighalo was the subject of abuse following a less than stellar performance at the World Cup in 2018, which went as far as death threats to the player and his family.
He recovered to lead Nigeria, and the rest of the continent, in scoring during the qualifiers for this year’s tournament and is on the verge of being potentially winning the top scorer’s award.
But a poor game against Madagascar, where the Super Eagles lost 2-0 reopened those old wounds and Ighalo took further flak on social media.
“He had discussed his decision with the coach before the third-place match, saying that the constant abuse was taking a toll on his young family, but he was advised to keep it under wraps for the moment,” the sources told ESPN.
Prior to the game, the 30-year-old posted a message on his WhatsApp status update that simply said “Final Game”.
“He has been very strong for us,” Rohr told ESPN. “And it is sad that he wants not to continue.
“But the door always is open for him any time.”
Ighalo, something of a late bloomer, made his senior debut for Nigeria in 2015 as the Super Eagles lost 1-0 to Uganda in a friendly.
He made 35 appearances for Nigeria, scoring 16 goals.
He was also top scorer through the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, with four goals, and he could also finish the tournament as top scorer having scored four in Egypt.
John Obi Mikel, centre, was part of the Nigeria squad that finished third in the Africa Cup of Nations, which was his final tournament with the Super Eagles. Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Nigeria captain Mikel, 32, meanwhile, announced his international retirement on his Instagram page, ending his senior international career in the same country where he made his senior debut in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.
“Egypt is a country where I’ve started and have finished my National career,” Mikel posted on Instagram.
“In 2006 I played my first official championship for my Country. 2019 African Cup of Nations marks my last championship for National Team with Super Eagles.
“My national career started in 2003 under 17 World Cup and I’m grateful for the national team for placing me on the world arena and giving me an opportunity to show my skill and have an incredible National and International career.
“At the age of 32 it’s time for me to retire from the National team and let the youth take over, who’ve done an amazing job securing a bronze medal at AFCON 2019.
“Thank you to all my Nigerian supporters and to my Country for all the trust, support and love you’ve shown me over the past 15 years.
“Mikel am out!”