Nigeria shakes off travel issues, defeats Japan in Olympic opener

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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.