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Fans flock as trophy tour rolls on in Lagos

"Everyone is celebrating the trophy being here," Christian Karembeu told UEFA.com's Rob Daly on the latest leg of the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour in Lagos, Nigeria.

Fans flock as trophy tour rolls on in Lagos
Fans flock as trophy tour rolls on in Lagos ©UEFA.com

UEFA Champions League fans in Africa watch the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimović from thousands of miles away, but the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by Heineken, arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, to give those who love the competition a chance to get close to Europe's biggest club prize.

I arrived in Nigeria on Thursday night and was first hit by the staggering heat; quite the change from the foggy London I left that morning. Greeted by staff at the airport, I then made my way to the trophy tour venue in the Victoria Island part of the city. Our driver guided us though the heavy traffic, past busy food markets and stalls running alongside the motorway.

Once at the venue, I got an idea of just how big the event was. Red rope and a green movie premiere-style carpet led all the way up to the trophy tour site, where iconic pieces of memorabilia, including match shirts from the likes of Phillipp Lahm, David Beckham and Ronaldinho were set out in displays. The final touches were being put together before the event opened to the public at the weekend.

The next morning I caught up with Ruud Gullit, the Heineken ambassador, who had already been in Nigeria for a few days promoting the trophy in various parts of the city. "I knew from a previous trip when I was in Kenya that people in Africa are very enthusiastic," he said. "It was wonderful to see how big the UEFA Champions League is."

So why is the competition in such demand in this part of the world? Gullit has a theory: "There are so many African players playing for UEFA Champions League teams, and therefore it has become so popular. Everyone here knows that it's the biggest trophy you can win for a club."

Saturday morning arrived and the doors opened to the public with hundreds flooding in early to explore the exhibition. It presented a rare opportunity to see some unique items from UEFA Champions League history and also meet former Nigerian internationals who had featured in the competition, including Jay-Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh.

"I got a picture with the trophy," said Daniel, a policeman from Lagos, visiting the venue. "I'm going to keep it for a lifetime. It's great to meet the likes of Sunday Oliseh as well. Nigerians are big fans of the UEFA Champions League."

Elsewhere, UEFA ambassador Christian Karembeu was busy signing autographs, playing table football and juggling balls with freestylers. The two-time competition winner also had time to answer some fan questions on the official UEFA Champions League Facebook page.

"It's always a privilege and a great opportunity to meet people," said the former Real Madrid CF midfielder. "I'm happy to be in Lagos. Fans can come and see the trophy and get a good souvenir. In Africa, they love football and everyone is celebrating the trophy being here."

Karembeu's next stop is Manchester. Now a special advisor to Greek club Olympiacos FC, he hopes his side can use their 2-0 advantage over Manchester United FC to progress to the quarter-finals of Europe's premier club competition. "We all know Manchester United are going to show their best," he added. "We are happy to already have this first victory against a big team because we had never beaten them. It was tremendous. We deserved the victory and played well."

No doubt millions around the world will be following their fortunes, while the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, having entertained thousands of fans in Argentina and Nigeria, next moves on to Vietnam.