Nigeria's journey just to get to Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is possibly worth a book or two itself. And I don't mean the qualifying process, which was fairly straightforward thanks to their win at the U23 Africa Cup of Nations last year.
Nigeria landed barely seven hours before kick-off in Manaus, after bureaucratic incompetence, plane issues, and who knows what else meant that they were "stuck" in Atlanta for far longer than anticipated. There were even rumors of a player coup, though I think that may have been overstated. Still, there are plenty of questions being asked about all the rejected planes, who paid whom, who organized what, and so on and so forth. In the end, the players got to fly on a chartered Delta flight that appeared at the last minute. Or some such. (Feel free to peruse the timeline of Nigerian journalist Colin Udoh and see if anybody can make any sense of these events.)
But perhaps this will all prove to be a good omen, just like 20 years ago.
After all that drama, they could've been excused if the match itself turned into a bit of a non-event. What it turned into instead was a circus of bad defending, poor goalkeeping, even worse positioning, and enough goals to last you a lifetime. And a wrong anthem, just to continue the theme of the day.
Nigeria took the lead three times in the first half, finally managing to make the third one count for a half-time lead of 3-2. The green-shirted "Dream Team VI" added two more before Japan pulled one back (courtesy of Arsenal new boy Takuma Asano), then added another one with the final kick of the game. The final score was 5-4 in favor of Nigeria, but it just as easily could've been 10-8, or 20-20, or anything in-between. What the match lacked in quality, it certainly made up for in entertainment.
Mikel John Obi, as he often tends to, played a bit further up than he does in his club football, and especially early on, certainly seemed to enjoy not having any defensive responsibilities. But the big star for Nigeria was striker Oghenekaro Etebo, who scored four of the five. Etebo was the leading scorer at the U23 ACN as well and he recently made the move to Europe (Portugal, to be specific) from the Nigerian leagues.
Next up for Nigeria will be Sweden on Sunday. But before then, Mikel (if all goes well) will get to carry his country's flag at Friday's opening ceremony. G'wan "Dream Team VI"!