By Patrick Johnston
BRASILIA, June 29 (Reuters) - Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel is hopeful that victory over France and a first World Cup quarter-final appearance can help unite the African nation currently gripped by violence and bloodshed.
Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 15 people on Sunday in an attack on two Nigerian villages as violence in the northeast of the country continued to surge since a mass abduction of more than 200 school girls in April.
Mikel, 27, said the troubles had made an impression on the squad but he pressed the need for his team mates to focus on Monday's last 16 match against France and do their bit to bring people together.
"I think it has been quite a tragedy, (but) we are here, we have a job to do, we have got to play the games and have get on with it, that's the job, but the things that are going on back home we shouldn't let it affect us," he told reporters on Sunday.
"I think football is what unites everyone back home in Nigeria, everyone loves football, and as long as we keep doing well and as long as we keep winning, I think this football alone can bring unity back to these various places where we are having problems."
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi also pressed the need to bring cheer to the strife hit fans of the Super Eagles, who are the first African country to get past the World Cup group phase on three separate occasions.
The troubles at home had clearly made all the smaller issues surrounding the African champions' preparations for a match against the formidable French seem incidental.
Peppered with questions about a bonus pay dispute involving the squad and the Nigerian Football Association, Keshi, known as "Big Boss", was clearly bemused by the interest in a problem he explained was over and said his team were "good to go".
"Do you work for the CIA?" he asked one American reporter who probed for more details of the pay dispute that was settled when Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan spoke to several senior players on Friday.
Asked if he was concerned about the searing temperatures in Brazil effecting his team during Monday's early afternoon kick off he rebuked: "Its a natural thing from God and I can't blame God so let's leave the weather alone."
Questions about his wingers also resulted in surprise for the coach, who played briefly for Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup when they reached the last 16 only to be beaten by Italy.
Asked if Ahmed Musa, who scored twice in the 3-2 defeat by Argentina, had decided to fast during daylight hours for Ramadan and if he was worried that it may affect his performance, Keshi offered: "Its the normal thing to do."
"Victor Moses is OK, we have 23 players, I can pick anyone I want."
Whoever he opts to select will face a tough ask against a French side which racked up eight goals in their opening two wins in Group E.
Keshi, though, has seen a pattern of unpredictability in the goal-filled tournament and was keen for that to continue.
"I think this World Cup has been an open tournament, I have never seen a World Cup like this before, you can never tell what is going to happen on the field for 90 minutes, he said.
"Lots of surprises coming up and we should keep hanging in there." (Editing by Ed Osmond)
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- John Obi Mikel