Nigeria lifts ban ahead of a FIFA deadline

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Nigeria lifted a ban on the national side playing international soccer on Monday just ahead of a FIFA deadline, while Uruguay prepared to do battle as the last barrier to European domination of the World Cup.

Nigeria's Kalu Uche (C) reacts after the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against South Korea at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Uruguay, with two of their most important players out through suspension or injury, face the Netherlands in Tuesday’s first semi-final.

The second, on Wednesday, is an all European affair between Spain and Germany.

President Goodluck Jonathan withdrew his two-year ban shortly before a 1600 GMT (5:00 p.m. British time) FIFA deadline to avoid suspension after Nigeria’s football federation said it would disband and rebuild the side.

There was no immediate reaction from soccer’s ruling body.

The sanction would have suspended Nigeria from all FIFA-related activities and blocked $250,000 (165,160 pounds) of aid a year.

FIFA is vehemently opposed to any political interference.

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The president had imposed the ban because of the Super Eagles’ poor showing at the World Cup, where they finished bottom of their group without winning a game.

Nigeria’s disgrace was a sharp contrast to Ghana, where a heroes welcome was expected later on Monday when they were due back in Accra after equalling the African record of reaching the quarter-finals.

The suspension of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, one of the key players to miss the semi-final, is a result of his last-second goalline handball which led to Ghana’s defeat.

Asamoah Gyan hit the crossbar with the resulting penalty and Uruguay went on to win a penalty shootout. A street festival and meeting with President John Atta Mills awaited the Black Stars, who were feted by all of Africa after their narrow defeat.


Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano, a mainstay of the team’s tough defence, is also likely to miss the semi-final because of a knee injury. Another defender, Jorge Fucile, is suspended.

Uruguay are not only the last Latin American survivors but are trying to restore a proud legacy of winning the tournament in 1930 and 1950. This is their first semi-final for 40 years.

They are up against a Netherlands team facing an equal historical burden, as one of the best teams never to have won the trophy, despite being runners-up in 1974 and 1978 and famous for inventing “Total Football.”

Uruguay look like the underdogs, with huge weight on striker Diego Forlan, one of the World Cup’s best players, who scored a sublime free kick against Ghana.

But their defence will have to tether the deadly trio of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt when they meet in Cape Town’s Green Point stadium.

Despite early complaints that they were not living up to the Dutch reputation for open soccer, the team won all their group games and two knockout matches here, including humbling Brazil 2-1 in the quarter-final.

The Brazilian Football Federation sacked coach Dunga and all his staff after the loss by the five-times champions.

Diego Maradona -- whose Argentina, like Brazil, were favourites for the title until a 4-0 crushing by Germany in the quarters -- told a local newspaper his “chapter had ended,” although the local football association and a close friend said he had not resigned.

The second semi-final on Wednesday promises to be an exciting match with both sides committed to fast passing and going forward.

Spanish captain Iker Casillas, said it was the most important game in the nation’s history, even more than their Euro 2008 victory against Germany.

The semi-finals represent an extraordinary turnaround in the World Cup, which was dominated in its early rounds by Latin America.

This tournament has also vindicated teams that work as a total unit instead of revolving around big names.

England’s Wayne Rooney, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazil’s Kaka and Argentina’s Lionel Messi are all out of the World Cup, most of them after miserable performances.

Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Ossian Shine