Nigerians frustrated by years of waiting for their football team to again play to its potential erupted with screams of joy and celebration Sunday as the country clinched the African Cup of Nations.
Thousands who gathered near the national stadium in Lagos, the largest city of Africa’s most populous nation, to watch the final on two big screens hugged one another, danced with abandon and held plastic chairs aloft.
They counted down the final seconds and fireworks exploded above them after the 1-0 win by their Super Eagles over Burkina Faso was assured, giving the country its first Nations Cup title since 1994.
The victory may extinguish, at least temporarily, some of the cynicism
toward a team which performed so poorly at the 2010 World Cup that President Goodluck Jonathan sought to ban them, a move he later rescinded.
Nigeria kings of Africa after 19 years
Nigeria failed to even qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup making this year’s run all the more sensational, with a quarter-final victory against favorites Ivory Coast.
Those in the crowd gave credit to coach Stephen Keshi, saying he turned the team around after taking over, trusted local players and made the country of some 160 million people believe in them.
Nigeria includes some 250 ethnic groups and is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south — divisions that have often led to violence.
The parents of Victor Moses, a national team star and Chelsea player, were killed when he was 11 in religious riots in Kaduna, still a flashpoint city a decade later.
The father of John Obi Mikel, also a national team and Chelsea player, was abducted in what was suspected to have been a ransom kidnapping in Nigeria in 2011 before being freed some 10 days later in a police raid.