Super Eagles midfielder Mikel Obi insists the team should be proud of their efforts at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil despite being knocked out of the tournament on Monday night after losing 2-0 to France in a last 16 clash in Brasilia.
After holding Les Bleus at bay for most of the match, Nigeria let it slip in the 79th minute when goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama palmed a corner kick into the path of Paul Pogba, who was able to direct a header into the empty net to break the deadlock.
An injury time own goal by defender Joseph Yobo completed the scoring and ensured that the Super Eagles would not be able to match the feats of Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana – three African teams which have reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
“Honestly, I don’t think that we should be feeling bad right now,” Mikel told FIFA.com in the aftermath of the match. “We’ve had a great tournament and today (Monday) we showed the whole world just what we’re capable of, even when up against a great team. I think that we played really well from the start, right up until we conceded the opening goal,” added the Chelsea midfielder.
“From that moment on, I’ll admit that we let our heads drop a bit. We couldn’t drag ourselves back into it, but none of that should take the shine off our performance.”
The Super Eagles’ no.10 believes his team were more than a match for the former world and European champions, and claims the game could have swung either way. It was only their key mistakes in defence that cost them dear.
“We were very well-organised. We knew exactly what we needed to do in defence against a strong team like France and, on top of that, whenever we had the ball we weren’t afraid to attack. We even had good chances to go in front ourselves. We got so much right, but mistakes do happen. What else can we say? We need to forget it and move on.”
Mikel also spoke of his midfield battle with Juventus star Paul Pogba, a personal contest that served as a microcosm of the match at large.
“It was an incredible duel, it’s true. There were times when I thought he [Pogba] was starting to look tired, but then he went and scored the opening goal. I guess that, in the end, he wasn’t that tired! But yes, the two of us had a really good tussle.”
Mikel added, “He’s an unbelievable player, isn’t he? He got the better of me today, but I’m sure we’ll come up against each other loads more times in the future. Who knows, maybe even at the next World Cup?”