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Nigerian players back boycott of finals

Wednesday 10 January 1996 00:02 GMT

Members of Nigeria's national team met the country's military ruler, General Sani Abacha, yesterday and confirmed that they would not be participating in the African Nations' Cup finals, which starts in South Africa on Saturday.

"It's so painful," Austin Eguavoen, the team captain, said. "But we are in support of the federal government."

Nigeria pulled out of the tournament citing fears for the security of the team in South Africa, which has strongly criticised Nigeria since nine minority rights activists were hanged in November.

Peter Rufai, the goalkeeper, said: "We were all worried before this meeting. But this afternoon it has been made clear to us once more, and fairly speaking we have quite agreed with the decision of the federal government over our not going to South Africa."

News that some of the players were meeting Abacha raised hopes that the Nigerian ruler would change his mind and allow the team to take part in Africa's biggest football event.

The government decision not to allow the team to defend the cup they won in Tunisia two years ago has been unpopular in Nigeria, where football is the leading sport.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF), meeting in Johannesburg yesterday, decided not to ask any country to replace Nigeria after Guinea turned down such an invitation. CAF has threatened Nigeria with a six- year ban from the championship for pulling out.

George Weah, Milan's Liberian striker, who completed a unique hat-trick of awards by being named Fifa's world player of the year, said his greatest football wish remained an unattainable dream.

"I would love to play in the World Cup but I know it will never happen," said the 29-year-old, whose country have never qualified for the World Cup.

Weah, also the European and African player of the year, is due to lead Liberia in their first appearance in the African Nations' Cup after years of civil war.

"I would like to use my image to be a sort of soccer ambassador in the world," he said. "After these sporting successes, I feel a sense of social responsibility that a couple of years ago I did not feel.

"The children need help more than anybody. My dream is to be able to work for an organisation like Unicef."

Weah urged Nigeria to reconsider their decision to pull out of the African Nations' Cup, saying it was bad for the whole continent.

"Without Nigeria the tournament will lose its quality and impact on the media, with enormous damage for the whole African soccer movement," he said.

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