John Mikel Obi, in 2005, represented the Nigeria under-20 team at the fifteenth edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship, where he finished the tournament as the second-best player, behind Lionel Messi, winning the Silver Ball award. Nigeria was the runner-up to Argentina, and Mikel first came to limelight in that tournament, after putting up a number of captivating performances for the team. The Championship was held between June 10 and July 2, 2005, in the Netherlands, and since then his popularity has grown both in Nigeria and on the international scene.
Riding on the back of his dazzling display in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, a couple of months later, specifically on August 17, he debuted for the Nigeria senior team when he featured as a sub in the second half in a 1–0 friendly win over the Mediterranean Knights of Libya. That was the genesis of his international career in the Super Eagles.
Mikel’s first goal for the Senior Team came after he was invited for the 2006 AFCON for the first time, which was hosted by Egypt. Interestingly, he would end his career for the Super Eagles on this same Egyptian soil. In that tournament, Mikel was an unused sub in Nigeria’s first group game against the Black Stars of Ghana. But he was introduced into the 2nd game vs. Zimbabwe in the 2nd half. Within 10 minutes of joining the game, Mikel had supplied the corner, which led to Christian Obodo scoring a header (as the game’s opener), and he (Mikel) also scored the second goal for the Eagles.
Still in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, he got his first international start in the last group game for Nigeria after his eye-catching performance in his previous game, where the team recorded a 2–1 victory over their fellow West African side, Senegal. In the following year, Mikel Obi unfortunately got suspended from all Nigerian national teams when the then Super Eagles manager, Berti Vogts, excluded his name from the team’s squad that would represent the country in the AFCON qualifier against Niger. He was dropped because he failed to show up for their previous match against Uganda. Though he cited an injury as his excuse, due to his failure to make himself available for an independent check by Nigerian officials, Mikel was left out of the squad. This, coupled with his refusal to join the Nigerian under-23 team, caused his suspension by the NFF (Nigeria Football Federation).
After he tendered an apology, John Mikel Obi was invited to join the national squad again for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which was held in Ghana. At that event, he put up a series of dazzling performances, scoring one goal and recording one assist in a crucial match against Benin, which saw the Super Eagles advance to the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, Nigeria lost that match (2–1) against the hosts, Ghana.
At the 2013 AFCON held in South Africa, Mikel made notable contributions on the road to the final as Nigeria claimed champion of the tournament, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final to secure their third continental title. The Super Eagles then went on to represent CAF in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, where he was named by CAF in the team of the tournament, in addition to 4 other teammates; Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses, Efe Ambrose, and Vincent Enyeama.
During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, held in Brazil, Mikel made his debut and earned a man of the match (MOTM) award in Nigeria’s opening match in the tournament against Iran. He was also instrumental in the Super Eagles reaching the knockout stage for the first time since the 1998 edition held in France.
Obi was named in the 35-man provisional squad for Nigeria for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and he later became captain of the Olympics squad. During the tournament, on August 13, 2016, he scored his first ever goal in the Olympics as Nigeria triumphed over Denmark (with a 2–0 win) to qualify for the semi-final. But they lost 2–0 to Germany.
After the Super Eagles’ defeat to Germany, they won the bronze medal on becoming victorious in the third-place match against Honduras 3–2, which was played on August 20. Mikel played a crucial role in that encounter, and the whole tournament, helping Nigeria secure the bronze medal. Nigeria then became the first ever country to secure all 3 medals at the Football Olympic Games: First with the 1996 squad that won the gold, then with 2008 squad that clinched the silver, and third with the 2016 bronze-winning team. One of the best Mikel Obi moments in the national team and one he is personally proud of.
In a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the Desert Warriors of Algeria, Mikel Obi scored a goal and registered an assist, as he helped his then Chelsea teammate Victor Moses score in a 3–1 victory.