September 1 - Nigeria's Government has offered companies the incentive of tax-cuts if they support the country's bid to qualify for next year's World Cup in South Africa, they have announced.

President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua announced the plan during a dinner to help raise funds for Nigeria's football team, who are nicknamed the Super Eagles.

He said: "Football has become more than just a game.

"It defines a nation's identity and symbolises national pride."

It has become a major goal for Nigeria to qualify for the first World Cup tournament to be held in Africa and which also coincides with the country's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.

Yar'Adua said: "I, therefore, particularly wish to invite the organised private sector to see this as an opportunity to show high sense of corporate social responsibility.

"We all have a duty to show love to our fatherland; the Federal Government would nonetheless, set the ball rolling by donating the sum of N300m (£1.2 million) to support this course."

Donations of over N500m (£2 million) were collected during the course of the evening.

The President also announced a series of incentives for players to do well, including bonuses of up to $20,000 (£31,630) a man for each match they win.

Nigeria's best performance in the World Cup came in 1994 and 1998 when they reached the last 16.

The team are currently ranked 23rd in FIFA's world rankings and second in Africa behind Cameroon.

Nigeria are second in their qualifying group, two points behind the leaders Tunisia, who they are due to play in Abuja on Friday.