The days leading up to the start of the Olympic men’s soccer competition were anything but smooth for Nigeria, with their being disputes with the Nigerian Football Federation regarding items such as the payment of their bonuses and the size of the plane that was supposed to take them from Atlanta to Manaus. Thursday morning things were finally sorted out, with the team arriving in Manaus just under seven hours before they were scheduled to face Japan in the group opener for both. What would Nigeria be able to give from a competitive standpoint given their travels?
Turns out the Nigerians had plenty left in the tank, as they scored five goals in holding off the Japanese for a 5-4 victory in the final match of the day.
Prior to Thursday no Olympic men’s soccer player managed to register a hat trick in a match since Carlos Tevez did so in 2004 in Athens. That feat was accomplished twice in Brazil, with Nigeria’s Oghenekaro Etebo becoming the second to do so. Etebo, who opened his account in the 11th minute, would go onto score four goals in the match. Etebo’s first goal was the third in a stretch of four goals scored in a seven-minute span, with both teams claiming two apiece.
Nigeria’s Umar Sadiq tapped in a rebound given up by Japan keeper Masatoshi Kushibiki in the sixth minute to open the scoring, only to have Japan receive a penalty three minutes later. Shinzo Koroki converted the penalty in the ninth minute, with Etebo offering a reply two minutes later and Japan’s Takumi Minamino knotting the score at two goals apiece in the 13th minute. The teams would remain tied until the 42nd minute, when Etebo scored his second on a failed clearance by a Japanese fullback. Etebo’s first shot wasn’t all that strong, but the defender attempted to clear the ball with a header that fell right onto Etebo’s right foot.
Less than ten minutes later Japan would be whistled for a foul in the area, with Etebo getting his hat trick from the spot in the 51st minute. Etebo scored his fourth goal in the 65th minute, with Kushibiki’s clearance of a Nigerian cross being of poor quality. At that point it appeared as if Nigeria could pick its final tally, but to their credit Japan refused to quit. A goal from recent Arsenal signing Takuma Asano in the 70th minute made the score 5-3, with Musashi Suzuki pulling Japan to within a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Luckily for Nigeria their opponents ran out of time, as they appeared to be gassed (understandably so, given their travel to Manaus) down the stretch.
Both teams return to action Sunday, with Nigeria taking on Sweden and Japan facing Colombia in a doubleheader in Manaus.
But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.
Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.
Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.
Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).
All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.
But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.
She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.
No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.
No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seleswon the 1996 Australian Open.