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BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Lagos
"Nigeria's economic decline has made football more important"
 real 28k

banner Friday, 11 February, 2000, 15:00 GMT
Semi-final success unites Nigeria

Nigeria's Super Eagles soared past South Africa

Nigerians have been coming together to celebrate the success of the Super Eagles in reaching the final of the African Cup of Nations tournament.

We are one big, happy family
Striker Tijani Babangida.
The co-hosts defeated rivals South Africa 2-0 in Thursday's semi-final, delighting more than 40,000 fans in the Lagos stadium and setting off joyous scenes across the country.

Nigerian football fans, some nursing hangovers, will already be looking forward to another party on Sunday after the final against Cameroon.

And the football team's success is also helping Nigerians temporarily forget about ethnic clashes, religious differences, corruption scandals and economic decline.

In a country with two main religions and more than 200 spoken languages, this is a welcome boon for the country's young civilian government.

Former Super Eagles coach Paul Hamilton says that football helps Nigerians temporarily forget their differences.

Nigerian fans take their football seriously
"Wherever an organised match is being played anywhere in this country, people from the different ethnic groups come together," he said.

"When the victory they hope for comes they are united, as if they are from the same womb."

In the semi-arid north of Nigeria, mainly Muslim Hausa-speakers are in the majority, while in the south, Christian Yorubas and Ibos are the main groups.

Super Eagles united

And under foreign coach Jo Bonfrere, the team's make-up is fairly representative of the country with players coming from different groups and regions.

Two of the Super Eagles' top international stars, Arsenal star Nwankwo Kanu and Paris St Germain's Augustine 'Jay-Jay' Okocha are Ibo.

When I'm playing for the Super Eagles I'm first a Nigerian and then a Hausa man
Tijani Babangida.
Semi-final goalscoring hero Tijani Babangida is a Hausa, while teenage somerssaulting goal sensation Julius Aghahowa is a Bini from Benin City.

Captain Sunday Oliseh is from the Delta region, which has been the scene of high levels of violence in recent years, while goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu and midfielder Mutiu Adepoju are Yorubas.

A message from Luton Town's Efetobore Sodje
All these ethnic differences are forgotten when the Super Eagles play well.

Striker Benedict Akwuegbu, himself an Ibo, says: "As a group, we cannot be more united.

"We may have our differences but mostly these have to do with the football itself, not with whether you are from the north or south," he said.

Lagos lawyer Ahmed Maiwada said after the semi-final that although Nigeria may have its problems it has been blessed with two gifts: Oil and football.

"When we are winning on the soccer pitch, we all forget our problems and differences. At that time we are as united as we could possibly be as a people."

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See also:
11 Feb 00 |  Cup Features
In pictures: Nigeria's semi success
10 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Eagles fly into final
26 Nov 99 |  Africa
Nigeria: More divided than united?
11 Feb 00 |  Cup News
South Africa prove good losers
10 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Mboma fires Lions through
08 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Nigeria fine halved for pitch invasion
Links to other Cup News stories are at the foot of the page.