It’s been a wild 72 hours for the Nigerian Olympic soccer team.
After finding themselves stranded at the airport in Atlanta barely 24 hours before they were to take the field in their Olympic opener against Japan, the “Super Eagles” arrived in Manaus less than seven hours before their scheduled kickoff.
They then turned up at the Arena Amazonia Manaus and promptly set about trouncing Japan 5-4 in a wild ride of a match that saw both teams score twice within the first 12 minutes.
Sadiq Umar got the goal fest underway, putting Nigeria ahead barely five minutes in. Three minutes later Japan was awarded a penalty, which Shinzo Koroki converted from the spot to level the score at 1-1. Japan had scarcely finished celebrating when Nigeria regained the lead through Oghenekaro Etebo. Two minutes later, Takumi Minamino scored again for Japan, tying the score at 2-2.
After the roller coaster ride of the first 15 minutes there came a period of relative calm until Etebo struck again three minutes before halftime, taking the jet-lagged Super Eagles into the break with a one-goal lead.
Nigeria extended the lead five minutes into the second half after Umar went down in the box and won a penalty. Subsequent replays suggested that the Roma striker had gone down under very little contact. But that made no difference to Etebo who completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot to make it 4-2, Nigeria.
Nigeria scored again in the 66th minute after Japanese goalkeeper Masatoshi Kushibiki rushed out to shut down an attack, leaving his net unattended for a charging Etebo who promptly made it 5-2.
Etebo, who plays his club soccer in Portugal, had a particularly good night, putting five shots on goal, scoring four, and becoming the first Nigerian to score a hat-trick at the Olympics.
But Japan was far from out and struck back in the 70th through substitute Takuma Asano, who side-heeled in a cross from Hiroki Fujihara from close range to pull it back to 5-3.
Japan did score again in extra time through substitute Musashi Suzuki, who pulled the ball back away from the defense and slotted it to the far post past Nigeria keeper Emmanuel Daniel, settling the score at 5-4 in Nigeria’s favor.
By that time it was 11 p.m. local time, and the exhausted Nigerians had just claimed victory in what far and away has been the most entertaining match we’ve seen yet in the Rio Olympics.
Not bad for a team that had started traveling at 7 a.m. Now let’s hope these poor guys can get some sleep!