Nigeria’s under 23 footballers overcame tumultuous travel arrangements to beat Japan 5-4 in their opening game of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Nigeria team arrived Brazil on the Thursday (day of the game) and showed little signs of fatigue, especially in the first half as they raced into the lead in the seventh minute through Sadiq Umar.
Ezekiel Imoh did well to create space on the right and his snap shot was pushed towards the path of Umar who gleefully tapped home from close range.
Japan were level two minutes later via a well-taken penalty converted by Shinzo Koroki after Takumi Minamino was fouled in the Nigeria box by Stanley Amuzie.
Remarkably, Nigeria retook the lead in the 11th minute through Etebo who controlled Shehu Abdullahi’s cross with his chest before firing past the Japan goalkeeper, Masatoshi Kushibiki.
It was a breathless start to a cracking game and keeping with the script, Japan equalized straight from the restart after the second Nigeria goal with Minamino latching onto a delightful through ball before beating Akpeyi with a simple finish.
There was to be no more scoring until three minutes before the break when Etebo profited from exemplary work by the impressive Umar before sweeping home at the second time of asking.
Nigeria continued to step on the accelerator in the second half and were 4-2 up six minutes after the break.
The Japanese defence was finding Umar in unplayable form and illegitimately stopped an attacking foray from the striker with the French referee, Clément Turpin quick to point to the spot.
Etebo stepped up and coolly completed his hattrick from 12 yards with a perfectly-taken penalty.
Almost unbelievably, Etebo scored his fourth and Nigeria’s fifth in the 67th minute with a fine long range finish after the Japanese goal keeper failed to effectively deal with another attack.
Swift attacking play by Japan saw them hurl themselves back into the contest as they took the score to 3-5.
Hiroki Fujiharu’s low cross from the right found Takuma Asano in acres of space in the Nigeria penalty area and the attacker finished with aplomb.
Substitute, Takuma Asano curled one home in the final minute of additional time but that was as good as it got for the Asians.
Japan continued to throw the kitchen sink at Nigeria but the West Africans defended stoutly to close out the win at the Arena da Amazônia, Manaus to move top of Group B after Sweden and Colombia could only draw 2-2 in the opening game of the section.
Nigeria will next meet Sweden at the same venue in their second game in three days’ time.