Saturday 28 May 2016, 15:48

Stars align for centurion Yobo

One of the most consistent and important players for Nigeria over a 13-year period, Joseph Yobo played in a star-studded testimonial on Friday to put a lid on an illustrious career that began in a small Nigerian village and ended with a century of international caps, 10 FIFA World Cup™ matches over three tournaments, six CAF Africa of Nations finals including one continental championship and over 250 appearances for English Premier League club Everton.

It was a mark of his importance as a solidifying force in central defence for the Super Eagles that when Yobo announced his testimonial match earlier this year, he was flanked by illustrious attacking talents like Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Ikpeba. Along with many Nigerian legends, stars of world football like Samuel Eto’o, Sulley Muntari, Stephen Appiah and Lomana Lualua joined the man credited with getting the best out of Yobo, former Everton manager David Moyes, in Port Harcourt for the match between Yobo & Friends and the Super Eagles Stars. Yobo played a half for both teams and managed to get his name on the score sheet in the match which Team Nigeria won 5-4. looks back at Yobo's career.

A quick ascension Born in 1980 in the far south of Nigeria in Kono, Yobo was a precocious footballer and was snapped up by Belgian club Standard Liege as a teenager. After a solid year in their first team at the age of 20, he went to Olympique Marseille for a season before becoming Moyes' first signing at Everton. The Scottish manager revealed his admiration of Yobo right from the start, saying: “Yobo is … probably the best player from Nigeria. I have no doubt he is a future captain of his country. He caught my eye during the World Cup finals with his ability to play anywhere in the defence or midfield. He impressed me in the match against England and particularly against Michael Owen.'”

And so it was on Merseyside that Yobo really showed his class. He helped the Toffees to qualify for the Champions League in 2005, played every minute of every league game in 2006-2007, became the first African to captain the team in 2007 and was in the side that reached in the final of the 2009 FA Cup. With his selections limited after that, Yobo made the jump to Turkey, spending four years with Istanbul giants Fenerbahce and winning the league title in his first term. He made a brief return to the Premier League in 2014, when he played eight matches on loan for Norwich, but it was undoubtedly at Everton that he enjoyed his biggest success.

Moyes' words upon signing the Nigerian proved to be prophetic as Yobo not only went on to play in 22 World Cup qualifiers for the Super Eagles, but he captained the team many times, helping them to their third AFCON trophy in 2013. Although injuries prevented him from playing regularly for the team during the tournament, it was never in doubt that Yobo would receive the cup on behalf of the players after the final.

A super Super Eagle The defender first appeared on the global stage in 1999, when he featured in all five matches the Flying Eagles played as they made it to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which the west African country hosted. Two years later Yobo played his first full international: a 1-1 draw against Zambia in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. His first taste of World Cup action came in his very next match as he played in Nigeria's 1-0 defeat against Sierra Leone in a qualifier for Korea/Japan 2002.

That was to be the start of an illustrious international career that saw Yobo play at the 2002, 2010 and 2014 World Cup finals. Disappointingly, he had to wait until his eighth match to leave the field victorious, as Nigeria beat Bosnia & Herzegovina 1-0 in the Brazilian town of Cuiaba in 2014. In Brazil, Nigeria advanced out of the group stage for the first time since 1998. They lost to France in the second round in Yobo's 100th - and final - match for the national team.

After the 2-0 defeat he announced that he would no longer play international football, saying at the time: "This is it. I can look back on my career with great pride. I wanted to leave on a high for my country. Defeat by France was not the right way to go, but I'm happy with all I've done for the national team. It's time to give a chance to other people to come through."

Yobo was the first Nigerian to reach 100 games for the Super Eagles, an achievement he shares only with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. Along with the African championship he won in 2013, Yobo participated at the 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 Cup of Nations, picking up four third-place medals.