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 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 also finished the tournament as top scorer having scored five in Egypt.
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!”
Nigeria also won bronze at that 2006 tournament, with Mikel notching one goal and one assist.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr praised the midfielder for his service, saying the midfielder had enjoyed a “big career” with the Super Eagles.
“We have really to be proud to have players like this in Nigeria,” Rohr told ESPN. “He’s one of the legends now. He did well again in this Afcon.
“I invited him to help the team; he helped the team not only on the pitch but also outside. He accepted to be on the bench, to be replaced.
“He’s an example for all our young players, with his professionalism, his approach to the competition, his serious attitude all the time. We will miss him.
“I’m happy that he could part in this Afcon, to finish his wonderful career with a bronze medal.
“He gave all the best for his country. He’s an example for all football players in Nigeria.”
Mikel made 88 appearances for Nigeria, scoring six goals and played at five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, two World Cups and one Olympic Games.
He was Nations Cup champion in 2013, and won an Olympic bronze medal with Nigeria in 2016.