While the squad that Nigeria assembled for the World Cup is more than capable of doing some incredible things in Russia, there’s a notable absence that has been felt throughout the nation. We are, of course, referring to Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Carl Ikeme. The 32-year-old was diagnosed with acute leukaemia almost a year ago, and in that time he’s received a wave of support from football fans, players and officials from around the globe. Now, the Iceland national team, who will play Nigeria in just a few days time, have paid tribute in a moving sign of solidarity and togetherness among the world’s best.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, who spent time at Molineux with Wolves and Ikeme, led the tributes as the underdogs took time out of their preparations for playing the Super Eagles to pay tribute to Ikeme. The keeper was likely going to be Nigeria’s number one in Russia until his illness derailed his season, although, despite the physical and emotional setback that he must be going through, Carl seems to be maintaining an incredibly positive outlook. Regarding Ikeme’s possible return to football, given that most goalkeepers reach their prime in their later years, you never truly know what could happen. While this illness will obviously take its toll on him there’s always a chance that he plays again one day, and given the options available to Nigeria from a goalkeeping perspective, it seems like they’d probably take him back in a heartbeat. Carl last played for Nigeria in October 2016, with manager Gernot Rohr, in particular, noting how disappointed he was that Ikeme would be unable to represent his country in Russia.
In the image, the squad are gathered around with a shirt donning the Ikeme name on the back, and they all seem to be in great spirits. Things will be different in a few days time when these two nations are competing to save their World Cup campaigns, but it’s nice to see that there’s a mutual respect between them. Nigeria are coming off the back of a disappointing 2-0 loss against Croatia, whereas Iceland held Argentina to a 1-1 draw. Both teams have areas where they can improve before Friday, but you have to question how much the Super Eagles want it in comparison to Iceland. The one thing that Nigeria can’t afford to do is underestimate Iceland because while they could still register a convincing victory, they need to realise that they’ll have to be at their absolute best to qualify for the knockout stages.