Nigerian players and officials to the 2018 World Cup may have packed their bag and baggage out of Russia after Super Eagles losst to Argentina in the final Group D game but the memory still lingers in the minds of soccer loving Nigerians and the last may not have been heard of what transpired in Russia. Heads will definitely roll and for some players, it may be the last time they willÂ put on the green and white shirt of the national team. With accusing fingers being pointed at the teamâ€™s striker, Odion Ighalo, the big question is whether the Watford of England striker would end up being the sacrificial lamb. Kunle Adewale in St. Petersburg, reportsBefore the kickoff of the World Cup in Russia, Odion Ighalo was full of optimism, hoping that he would be injury-free and do well for Nigeria.In a chat with THISDAY before the Mundial, the former Watford of England striker said: â€œWith the support of my teammates I am optimistic that the team would go far considering the kind of preparation we have put in. We know what is at stake and we wonâ€™t disappoint, thatâ€™s just all I can say.Â We are aware that we are in a tough group but we know what we must do to advance without pressure.â€However, it was not to be as the Super Eagles failed to progress to the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup – the third time in Nigeriaâ€™s sixth appearance at the biggest soccer fiesta.Like in every unsuccessful mission, the question about where things went wrong would always be asked and â€˜Mission to Russiaâ€™ was no exception.After X-raying the teamâ€™s failure, Ighalo was found to be the most culpable, more especially after failing to convert any of the begging chances that came his way especially in the match against Argentina in which the Super Eagles needed only a draw to progress.The Yatai Changchun striker indeed admitted to having let the country down and was quick to tender his unreserved apology, saying: “I apologise to Nigeria. I apologise to my team-mates. I take responsibility for this game because if he had taken those chances I had that would have made it a different ball game.â€œItâ€™s a sad day for me, the boys and the country because we went out in a bad manner and we deserved more in the game. We had a penalty in the game and another one which the referee did not give. I missed a couple of chances that would have finished the game but thatâ€™s football because sometimes you win and sometimes to lose.â€What started as mere accusing fingers being pointed at him quickly turned to a death threat.The striker has received death threats following the opportunities he missed against Argentina in St. Petersburg before Marcos Rojo’s late strike ended the Gernot Rohrs’ side Russia campaign.The 29-year-old wrote: “For those who want to kill me, please – I am someone’s child. We did our best, but sometimes things don’t always go the way you want – but life has to go on.â€œGreat experience to be at the World Cup, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”Remorseful Ighalo further said: â€œI understand how Nigerians feel, and I understand the frustration when you donâ€™t come out of the field with the right result. Itâ€™s normal for people to criticise the coach and the players. We were building and rebuilding our team, and we had no faith in the team before he came. We lost to a team with Messi and other top players and we have learned from our mistakes.â€â€œIghalo wanted to score goals and make his name. Top players have also missed great chances in the tournament and we should not crucify him. Some of Ighaloâ€™s goals and assists contributed to our World Cup qualification. We cannot because of one competition ask him to leave the national,â€ Super Eagles Coordinator, Patrick Pascal said.Speaking in the same vein, former Nigeria international and Super Eagles media officer, Idah Peterside, said football is a teamâ€™s game and that it should not be fair to single out one person when the team fails.â€œIt takes collective responsibility for a team to win, so why one or two players should be singled out for blame when the team fails. The whole team took the glory when Nigeria defeated Iceland, not only the goal scorer (Ahmed Musa). Why is it now that we lost to Argentina that a player is being singled out for blame?â€œIt is true we were all optimistic after Icelandâ€™s victory and looking at it critically we didnâ€™t play too badly, except for few errors which we paid dearly for. All we needed do now is looking forward to how to improve on the present squad and start preparation in earnest for the coming Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, rather than wasting time and energy on the blame game,â€ the former goalkeeper cum pastor concluded.In a separate interview before the World Cup, Ighalo was said to have warned his teammates not to be carried away by the teamâ€™s smooth sail during the qualifiers and the recent 4-2 victory recorded against South American giant-Argentina, as such successes could have an adverse effect on the team in the competition proper.â€œNaturally, such feat should be a morale booster to the team with the World Cup just a few months away but it could also have a ripple effect as the team might get carried away by such achievements at the competition proper. We should just put behind those little successes and focus properly on what is coming ahead of us if we really want to do well in Russia,â€ Ighalo told THISDAY.The striker indeed admitted that the recent victories recorded by the team had taken away the â€˜underdogâ€™ tag Nigeria would have enjoyed at the World Cup. â€œNow, we are the team to beat. We are now like the proverbial golden fish with no hiding place,â€ he noted then. Ighaloâ€™s position in the Super Eagles was initially threatened when Rohr was quoted as saying that â€œonly three China-based Nigerian players would make it to the World Cup (which he later denied) after shutting out Ighalo and other China-based players in the two friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso.â€œItâ€™s very difficult to monitor the players in China. Also, I was satisfied with the performances of the young players I have been working with for the past two weeks in France and that was why we decided to keep this group,â€ Rohr said.A further threat to Ighaloâ€™s position to the Mundial after the German-born manager expressed his disdain over the lack of decisive strikers in the Super Eagles fold during the teamâ€™s double-edge friendlies against Poland and Serbia, culminating to the extension of an invitation to â€˜old warhorseâ€™, Obafemi Martins.The Franco-German tactician expressed his willingness to increase his striking options as the team continues to build up for the World Cup, maintaining that Martins and other Nigerian strikers who are hoping to be part of the World Cup party would have to be playing and scoring consistently to earn a call-up and Martins, who plays for Shanghai Shenhua fits into that category, having helped his club to win the Chinese FA Cup last November, beating rival Shanghai SIPG, with the 33-year-old scoring in both matches of the two-legged final.He scored the only goal in his team’s 1-0 first leg victory and also got their second goal in the return leg which finished 3-2 in favour of SIPG.â€œYes, the door is open to all our best players, including Martins.He is scoring a lot of goals and we need to get competition for all the positions, especially centre-forward.Â We have a lot of opportunities for the strikers, and so Martins, if he is scoring goals, will be welcome,â€ Rohr had said.However, just when many were thinking that Obagol might be part of Super Eagles party to Russia as all directions were turning towards him to help solve the teamâ€™s inability to hit the target, the injury came knocking.There is no doubt that heads would role at the end of the World Cup as some officials and players, if not coaches would be made the sacrificial lamb.The big question on the lips of observers therefore is, have we seen the last of Ighalo in the Super Eagles shirt in Russia.Ighalo was born on June 16, 1989. He started his career at Prime FC and later moved to Julius Berger and in 2007, he moved to Lyn in Norway. A year after was signed by Udineze of Italy but was loaned out to Granada in Spain, before signing for Watford in 2014.Last year, he moved to Changchun Yatai in China for a fee of Â£20m.In March 2015, after a series of strong performances for Watford, the then newly appointed Super Eagles interim coach, Daniel Amokachi invited Ighalo to the senior national, and he said then, “I feel good because it is my dream to play for my country.”With death threat hanging on his neck, it remains to be seen if he still feels good playing for his country.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegram
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