Oghenekaro Etebo was the star of the night Thursday in Manaus, Brazil as he scored four goals for Nigeria to beat Japan 5-4 in a thrilling, back-and-forth encounter.
The nine-goal thriller was the second match of Group B at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.
The second match in Group B did not take long to spring into life, even with the lethargy expected from the Nigerian side’s late arrival from their U.S. training camp.
Hiroki Fujiharu crossed to the far post for Ryota Ohshima who connected well with a volley, but his shot was saved by Emmanuel Daniel.
While Nigeria just managed to scramble the ball away for a corner kick, they were soon placed in the match’s driving seat two minutes later.
Sadiq Umar opened the scoring after Imoh Ezekiel had his shot saved following some superb dribbling on the right wing.
Umar was right there to tap in the second chance after Japan goalkeeper Masatoshi Kushibiki spilled it right in front of him.
Japan responded with a goal of their own three minutes later when a penalty kick was given after Stanley Amuzie fouled Shoya Nakajima in the penalty area.
Shinzo Koroki stepped up and converted a very calm and composed penalty kick, sending Daniel the wrong way.
Etebo then restored Nigeria’s lead a minute later, controlling a very high cross with his chest before unleashing a half volley into Kushibiki’s goal to make it 2-1.
Seconds later and on Japan’s next passage of play, Red Bull Salzburg’s Takumi Minamino found himself one on one with Daniel.
He calmly slotted his shot past the goalkeeper to make it 2-2, thrilling the Manaus crowd.
The match settled down for the majority of the half until Etebo had another say before the break, scoring his second goal of the match.
He gave Nigeria the lead for the third time when Umar found him ghosting in the penalty area, with his initial shot saved but scoring with his second chance.
Etebo picked up from where he left off and he completed his hat-trick five minutes after the restart, scoring from the penalty spot after Umar was fouled in the area.
The Feirense man then scored his fourth goal of the night, picking up a poor clearance from Kushibiki and scoring from 20 yards into an empty net.
That goal looked to have taken the life out of Japan, but they didn’t give up.
Four minutes after Etebo’s fourth, substitute and new Arsenal signing Takuma Asano finished off a great attacking play for Japan with his backheel, pulling his team back to a two-goal deficit.
Japan never gave up and in fifth minute of injury time substitute Musashi Suzuki curled in his shot from the top of the area after cutting in on his left foot.
In the end Nigeria did enough to hold on defensively and secure all three points.
They now look ahead to their second match of the tournament against Sweden on Sunday, with Japan meeting Colombia that same day.
Earlier on Thursday, Colombia and Sweden had drawn 2-2 in another Group B match, and the result means Nigeria lead the group after Match Day One.