LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria erupted in celebrations Sunday after their Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations, a moment that harkened back to the national teams of old and saw fans scream in delight.
Thousands gathered at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos to watch the final against Burkina Faso on a big screen, which Nigeria won 1-0. The crowd went wild over the game's only goal by Sunday Mba in the first half, throwing anything they could in the air and shouting. The final whistle led to similar exuberance, as people tossed beer cans everywhere, screaming and running.
"We went there, we conquered," said a man who called himself Baba Daniel. "We fly; we are an eagle."
He paused for a moment, then added: "I don't know how to just express myself but I'm so flabbergasted. I'm so happy."
It is the third African Cup of Nations title for the Super Eagles, who hoisted the trophy in 1980 and 1994 and dominated African football for much of the '90s.
However, Africa's most populous nation has since struggled in big football tournaments, and has not won a World Cup match since 1998. It had two losses and a draw in 2002 and didn't qualify for the 2006 tournament. After the 2010 World Cup, also in South Africa, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he would pull all national teams out of competition because of the poor showing.
FIFA later threatened to ban the team over political interference and Jonathan backed down hours before a deadline. Meanwhile, four former high-ranking federation officials were charged with corruption after allegations they embezzled money from the team's tournament funds in South Africa.
However, Nigeria appeared to bounce back under coach Stephen Keshi. In a statement immediately after the game, Jonathan praised Keshi and the team for playing with "great focus, dedication, artistry and patriotism."
"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," the statement read.
For Nigerians who watched the game, their reaction was simply one of pride, even as the country struggles through a bloody Islamic insurgency, crushing poverty, little electricity and other challenges.
"I'm a proud Nigerian," fan Cynthia Ejimnkeonye said. "I love this country with my last blood."
Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.