It wasn’t exactly the way Joseph Yobo wanted to mark his 100th and final appearance for Nigeria.
With one of his last touches in international football, the man who has held Nigeria’s defense together for the past 13 years scored an injury-time own goal in a 2-0 loss to France in the last 16 of the World Cup yesterday.
“I would have loved to have done it differently,” Yobo said with a wry smile.
The 33-year-old Yobo announced after the match in Brasilia that he would be retiring from international duty to concentrate on his club career and spend more time with his family.
He became the first Nigerian to reach a century of international caps and will go down as one of his country’s greatest defenders, appearing at three World Cups.
“It’s a bittersweet end (for him), yeah,” Nigeria striker Shola Ameobi said. “He’s been a great leader of this team for over 13 years. He’s been a stalwart of this Nigeria defense – our captain and our leader.
Yobo was emotional in the changing room after the final whistle as the defender made a stirring speech to the squad.
“He’ll be hard to replace,” Ameobi added.
Yobo almost didn’t even make it to Brazil as he struggled with a calf injury in the final few months of the season on loan at English club Norwich from Turkish side Fenerbahce.
He recovered just in time to be selected in the squad and capitalized on an injury to Godfrey Oboabona to play Nigeria’s
final two group games – against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Argentina – and keep his place for the France game.
Aside from inadvertently turning in Mathieu Valbuena’s low cross for France’s game-sealing second goal, Yobo enjoyed
an impressive final appearance for the “Super Eagles” and kept Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud relatively quiet.
He should have a good few years left in him at club level, where he has also represented Standard Liege, Everton and Marseille.
“I’m moving on with life,” Yobo said. “It’s time to spend more time with the family and focus on club football. I’d like to thank the Nigeria fans and thank all the players. It’s been a pleasure, it’s been wonderful.
“I won the African Nations Cup, came this far at a World Cup I never thought I’d make because of injury. Hopefully (the young players) will carry on from here. We have done a lot of things behind the scenes, put a lot of hard work in together, as a leader, they know what I’ve brought in so it’s just to carry on where we finished.”
It remains to be seen whether coach Stephen Keshi will also be leaving the Nigeria team after falling short of leading the country to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.
When asked if he would be staying on in his role, Keshi said “I don’t know, I don’t know,” adding that his priority was to see his wife and children back home.
“I would love to be here at the end of the tournament (but) going back would be a good thing,” Keshi said.
It hasn’t been easy for Keshi in Brazil. He faced criticism from media back home after a 0-0 draw with Iran to open group play and then had to deal with player disgruntlement over unpaid bonuses that led to a training session being canceled on Thursday, just four days before the last-16 match.
Masterminding a win over France proved to be a step too far for Keshi, who can at least console himself with becoming
the first African coach to lead a team out of the group stage at a World Cup.
“I don’t know why we are going home so early,” he said. “Maybe the players weren’t old enough, maybe there wasn’t total focus. It’s something we need to review and see what comes up.”