The Nigerian under-23 men’s soccer team defeated Japan 5—4 in their opening match on Thursday, August 4, in Manaus, at the Rio Olympic Games in Brazil.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the Nigerian under-23 team, also known as the Dream Team VI, defeated their Asian counterparts in an Olympic fixture that was one of the few sporting events scheduled to take place ahead of the Games’ official opening on August 5.
The Nigeria vs Japan match kicked off at 2 a.m. Nigerian time, much to the dismay of Nigerian fans at home. Those who stayed up late to watch it saw Oghenekaro Etebo (who plays for Portuguese club side CD Feirense) take the spotlight as he scored four goals to shine bright for his Nigerian team.
With their victory over Japan, the Nigerian U-23 team gained an early lead over group B, which also includes Colombia and Sweden. Both teams played out a 2—2 draw on Thursday.
The New York Times reported that there had been initial concerns before the match about the Nigerian team’s level of preparedness for the game – the under-23 team had arrived in the city of Manaus only six hours before kickoff due to a logistic mix-up at the airport that delayed their flight.
Initial reports had suggested that the Nigerian team was stranded due to financial constraints; however, in an interview with the New York Times, Bunmi Jinadu, a Nigerian-born sports entrepreneur blamed the team’s delay on a “communication mix-up.” He explained that in preparation for the Olympic games, the Nigerian team had set up a training camp in Atlanta, Georgia. At the close of the training camp, the team then planned to catch a flight from there to Brazil.
However due to poor planning on the part of the team’s organisers, no one had booked the team’s flight tickets ahead of time. Someone apparently assumed that they could easily buy plane tickets to Rio at the last minute as is often done back home in Nigeria.
Delta Airlines came to the rescue of the Nigerian team, offering to fly them to Brazil free of charge. Airline spokesperson Betsy Talton said they were pleased to help Nigerian team, which has become famous for its past Olympic exploits.
“This came to our attention on the 20th anniversary of the Nigerian football team’s win at the Atlanta Games,” the Delta spokeswoman said. “Everyone was happy to help them with another miracle by getting them to Manaus.”
In 1996, Nigeria’s under-23 men’s soccer team – nicknamed the Dream Team by the local press – had stunned the world by winning the Gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. On the road to victory, the team came from behind in an epic semi-final encounter to defeat a Brazilian side packed with much star power and then put the Argentines to the sword in the final, becoming the first African team to win gold in a soccer event at the Olympic Games.