For the last 15 years, Nigeria has wallowed in soccer mediocrity — an ignoble plight for the most populous country on a continent that covets the sport. That changed Sunday when the Super Eagles won the Africa Cup of Nations, defeating Burkina Faso, 1-0.
The win touched off an enormous celebration in Lagos, where thousands of delirious fans had gathered to watch the final moments of the tournament at Teslim Balogun Stadium.
“We went there, we conquered,” a man who called himself Baba Daniel said to the Associated Press. “We fly; we are an eagle.”
Once, Nigeria was a soccer stalwart. However, it turned quickly and badly for the Super Eagles. They have gone 13 years without a victory in the World Cup. It did not even qualify for the 2006 tournament. It was so bad that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he would not allow his country’s national teams to compete because of their substandard results.
But FIFA, the sport’s governing body, said it would ban the team over political interference, and Jonathan acquiesced just before the deadline. Then there was a quartet of federation officials charged with corruption after allegations they embezzled money from the team’s tournament funds in South Africa. In short, it was a mess.
All that made the win Sunday that much more significant.
“President Jonathan urges all Nigerians to imbibe the positive lessons of the Super Eagles’ success because the fulfillment of the country’s immense potentials for greatness will be more speedily attained if more Nigerians resolve to emulate the team’s exemplary unity,” Jonathan said in a statement as Nigeria captured its third African Cup of Nations.
“I don’t know how to just express myself,” Daniel said to the AP, “but I’m so flabbergasted. I’m so happy.”
The win was a reprieve, if only briefly, from that country’s struggles through a bloody Islamic insurgency, debilitating poverty, sparse electricity and other spirit-stifling challenges.
“I’m a proud Nigerian,” fan Cynthia Ejimnkeonye said to the AP. “I love this country with my last blood.”