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LAGOS (Reuters) - At the Campos Mini stadium in Lagos, cheerleaders dance as spectators root for their local team. However, the players at this game are not the usual defenders guarding posts or strikers scoring goals but linebackers and quarterbacks huddled round the line of scrimmage and aiming for touchdowns.

In soccer-mad Nigeria, American Football, a sport usually played thousands of miles away in the United States but growing in popularity around the world, is slowly winning over new fans.

The West African country this year hosted what organizers said were its first two games as its two amateur American Football teams, the Lagos Marines and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Titans, battled it out on the pitch.

Before the first game in March at the Titans' home ground in northern Kaduna state, few Nigerians had heard of either team. A few weeks later in Lagos, dozens of fans waved banners and cheered in support.

"It's not exactly the NFL (National Football League), or college football," sports journalist Colin Udoh said. "But for a first effort this is not bad at all. I think it's long overdue."

With no official game structure in place, the two matches were one-offs, but the teams are hopeful Nigeria could one day have a league for the sport just like soccer.

ABU has been training its players for several years, holding inhouse matches. In Lagos, German coach Dominick Muller founded the Marines in late 2013, recruiting players more used to soccer, basketball and volleyball.

"Accepting the sport in Nigeria is very difficult but so far... everything is looking up," said quarterback Adesina Pelumi, who cites New England Patriots' Julian Edelman as his favorite player. "My personal aim is to get (into) the NFL."

The Marines train four times a week. With no major sponsor, it was Muller who paid for about 65 kits for his players.

Raising awareness of the sport in a country where the NFL is rarely followed is a challenge, but Pelumi believes developing the sport could play a role tackling Nigeria's mass youth unemployment, which experts worry could create social problems and raise the risk that young people turn to radical groups.

"The basic thing American football is doing for (us) Nigerians as youths is that it controls aggression," he said.

"We have lots of people that are really angry and if they can channel that anger to playing a sport I don't think we will have any issue with security in Nigeria."ty to appear substantially older than his age would suggest, has chipped in 7 goals from defence. Although Braintree’s budget would indicate they are hugely overachieving following years of lower-middle table finishes, the mood Danny Cowley has installed within the camp would suggest that anything is possible – his ability to take the team on to another level has enhanced his status as one of the most talented young managers in the lower echelons of the football pyramid. The infamous goal at Guiseley in February, although costing them points, has been used to harden the squads belief – the players ensured that the changing room was cleaned and left immaculate in the face of huge frustration. “We do things properly at Braintree Town” said Cowley – quite right too.

As most of us have fallen in love with Leicester’s achievements this season, it would be a huge disservice not to credit Braintree town should they achieve what was perceived to be impossible and become football league club – and best of all, they won’t have to make the trip up to the sporting chaps at Guiseley again.

Unlike in the EPL where the TV money is shared evenly, the La Liga pot is most taken by Barca and Real leaving the rest of the teams to feed on scraps. Ronaldo and Messi only score 50+ goals a season is because most teams are bankrupt and can barely afford to pay their staff never mind buy quality the quality of player for example Cabaye or Payet like Palace and West Ham did this season. When you know Barca and Real are most likely going to win 5-0 each week where is the excitement? Without Atletico right now or Valencia and Deportivo before them La Liga isn’t even worth following, just find out at the end of the season who won from the big two and watch a you tube video of Messi/Ronaldo/Suarez/Neymar’s best goals.

Winning the EPL is much more difficult and now more than ever. Next season there might be 6 potential title challengers, few if any leagues can offer that. Shearer’s and Henry’s goal records actually mean something because it’s a competitive competition where it’s a lot harder to score as most teams won’t roll over for you like most La Liga teams do on a weekly basis and Aston Villa did this season and it’s has always been like that. Messi scoring 500 goals in La Liga would be more like 200 in the EPL.

Spanish teams do better in Europe because Barca and Real usually have the worlds best players which can produce moments of magic that make winning knockout competitions just that little easier (see Di Maria’s piece of Genius to setup Bale for Real’s La Decima win). Spanish teams also dominate the Europa League as until Liverpool this season they just didn’t see it as important as finishing 4th and qualifying for champions league or for smaller teams that qualified just staying in the EPL to keep the riches flowing in. Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia need the cash from progressing and winning Europe’s second tier competition when EPL teams really don’t

Villa did this season and it’s has always been like that. Messi scoring 500 goals in La Liga would be more like 200 in the EPL.


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