John Obi Mikel Needs to Rally Nigeria in Africa Cup of Nations

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIJanuary 25, 2013

NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 25:   John Obi Mikel of Nigeria in action during the 2013 African Cup of Nations match between Zambia and Nigeria from Mbombela Stadium on January 25, 2013 in Nelspruit, South Africa.  (Photo by Manus van Dyk/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

It was as epic a fixture as promised on Friday, when John Obi Mikel and Nigeria came to a 1-1 draw with Zambia during Day 7 of the Africa Cup of Nations.

While Nigeria is still in place to make it to the next round, it will have to be around the rallying cry of Mikel.

The oft-controversial midfielder was at it again after Friday's draw, saying (via that Nigeria needed to "learn to keep a lead."

That's certainly true, as the Super Eagles now have two draws in each of their Group C games. But Nigeria took in early leads in both games, and inevitably coughed them up.

At the end of the day, part of that blame falls on the shoulders of Mikel.

The midfielder is not the best scorer in the world, which is why he has just a handful of goals in his career. His strength lies in his shutdown ability on defense.

And that's been the real problem for the Super Eagles, giving up late goals, despite the talent they possess on all three lines of the pitch.

Mikel's aggressive and fearless play makes him a valuable anchor, but he's prone to laps in concentration.

He's also outspoken at times, though his words aren't always wrong—Nigeria does need to stop giving up goals with the lead. But this time around he needs to direct them a bit more towards himself.

Nigeria was out 1-0 when they gave up the goal to Zambia to force the draw. But Mikel also had a chance to change the game with an early penalty kick that he—not surprisingly—botched.

Nigeria has a talented squad of football players, and it could make a real push into the Africa Cup of Nations. The team already gave Zambia—the reigning champions—a run for their money.

But the team has to learn to buckle down on defense and keep a lead. That needs to start and end with John Obi Mikel.