CAMPINAS, Brazil (AP) - Shocked by a suicide bombing attack against a World Cup viewing site in northeast Nigeria, the country’s national team is more determined than ever to succeed in Brazil and provide some comfort to those at home, a team official said on Wednesday.
Emmanuel Attah, the team’s coordinator, appealed for calm in Nigeria and said the team remained united and focused on its task of beating Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday, following a 0-0 draw with Iran in its Group F opener.
“The only way we can console or condole these people who lost their lives or who were injured is to just do one thing: go ahead and beat Bosnia and qualify for the next round of the World Cup,” he said at the team hotel in Campinas, northeast of Sao Paulo, where the team is training.
“Football is like a religion in Nigeria. If we beat Bosnia there will be happiness and joy in Nigeria and we know that beating Bosnia will not bring back the lives of all those who are dead but then it is our own way of saying ‘sorry for the loss.’”
Police say 14 people were killed and at least 26 wounded in Tuesday night’s blast in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, as fans were watching the Brazil vs. Mexico match. Witnesses said a suicide bomber drove a tricycle taxi packed with explosives into the area.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but police blamed Boko Haram, an armed Islamic group that wants to turn Nigerian into an Islamic state and is behind the kidnapping of 250 schoolgirls.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and its people are almost equally divided between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north.
Attah said the team was united. “It is one country. It is one Nigeria. It is one national team”
He also appealed to the people behind the attack.
“I know some of them must have played football before, some of them must have been football fans,” he said. “Stop it. Embrace peace in our country. Nigeria was not like this before.”
The winners of the 2013 African Cup of Nations, Nigeria also has to face Argentina in its group. A victory on Saturday would be big step towards reaching the second round for the first time since 1998.
Security experts had warned before the tournament that Islamic militants might attack crowds watching the World Cup in public places in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, as they did in 2010 in Uganda. The explosions in Kampala, Uganda, at two sites where people watched the 2010 World Cup final on TV killed 74 people. Al-Shabab, a Somali insurgent group, set off those bombs.
In a brief statement, FIFA condemned the attack.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic incident in Nigeria,” it said. “We offer our sincerest condolences to the victims’ families and friends.”