Less than twenty four hours to their first match with Croatia in their Group D match on Saturday in Kaliningrad, the captain of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, John Mikel Obi has said that his team has been enjoying the hospitality of the citizens of Russia, who have welcomed them with open arms.
“Russian people have been very nice to us. A lot of Russian supporters seem to support the Nigerian team. I don’t know why; maybe because my girlfriend is Russian.”
Mikel Obi, who was reacting to racist charge against Russians, said that such warm welcome may help in its campaign to bring World Cup to Nigeria and Africa for the first time in history.
This was even as the Eagles’ coach, Gernot Rohr said: “we have a little sympathy perhaps because we have also a Russian player in our team. He’s Russian and Nigerian; he’s Bryan Idowu, and we have Ahmed Musa who’s playing at CSKA Moscow.”
Nigeria players have good memories of Russia after beating Poland 1-0 in Krasnodar in a March friendly, thanks to a goal by forward Victor Moses.
“We all are sure there will not be any problem for the Nigerian players, because the atmosphere we have felt already on arriving in Russia was very good,” Rohr said.
Idowu, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg, told The Associated Press last month that some fans in the country viewed racist abuse as a tactic to distract opposing players, rather than as a statement of ideology.
“I think most of them do that to put pressure on a player psychologically, maybe so he doesn’t want to keep playing. It could just be because someone finds it funny.”