Following Nigeria’s Dream Team V1’s lacklustre arrival at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games few hours to kick-off, no one expected the team to do well. They however have booked a quarter final ticket while the team’s striker, Oghenekaro Etebo, has gone on to equal a 44-year old record. For him though, it is the gold that matters in Olympic football. Kunle Adewale reports
The Nigerian team landed in Manaus at about 2pm local time after an eight-hour flight from Atlanta, where they had been stranded for days after a logistical mix-up. But incredibly, the Mikel Obi-captained team won 5-4 in their Olympic opener against Japan. But away from the victory, it was the four goals scored by 20-year-old striker Etebo Oghenekaro, that stole the headlines.
After the four-goal feat, Oghenekaro stated that he would prefer being an Olympic gold medalist to being the tournament’s top scorer. But little did he know he had achieved a greater accomplishment with his double brace – a 44 year old record has been equalled.
It had been 44 years since a player last scored four goals in an Olympic football match, when West Germany’s Bernd Nickel scored four goals against USA in Munich. And last Thursday, in the dry, difficult conditions of Manaus, Etebo matched Nickel’s feat.
“Thank God it has happened, but what I’m most excited about was the victory. I’m very happy because it was a great joy, although it wasn’t easy due to the stress and all that. If I had scored but we lost, it’s not going to be too fantastic. I’m happy we’re topping the group, and I’m really happy about the goals. I didn’t expect it at all. I’m not going for personal glory but team glory, which to me means winning gold. Without the gold, it’s going to be painful because achieving that is important for me, for Nigerians and for my team-mates,” he toldFIFA.com.
Goals are in Etebo’s blood. Indeed, he’s well used to making the kind of impact he has made at Rio 2016. In Etebo’s first ever Nigerian Premier League match as an 18-year old, he scored a hat-trick and at the end of that season, he finished as the league’s second-highest goal scorer.
“I’m not that perfect but I believe, like my coach says, once you get a chance, its better you convert it because you don’t know when you’re going to get another one. I’m not a special striker or fantastic goal scorer, but it’s better to be at the right place at the right time to score good goals,” he said.
During the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal, the qualifying tournament for Rio 2016 for the continent, Etebo finished as the tournament’s top marksman.
“Now in Brazil, I scored four goals in the first game. When I scored those goals, I didn’t think about anything. It’s a game of football! Luck was on my side,” Etebo said.
Etebo showed on Thursday night in the Amazon that he has all the attributes of an elite forward: composure in the penalty area, ruthlessness in front of goal, precision and awareness from distance and clinical penalty-taking ability. But has there been another striker that has inspired him in his development?
“There’s one player that I really cherish most. He’s playing for Manchester United and his name is Wayne Rooney. I really like him a lot from day one,” he said.
The England captain would surely have admired the natural way Etebo scored his goals, while writing his name in the books of Olympic football history in his first ever match at the Games.
“I just want to dedicate the goals to my family, friends and well-wishers. I really appreciate them a lot. The way we are going, I believe we are going to get it right. As long as we’re disciplined, we’re going to take advice from the coach, and listen to his instructions for every game. I believe we’re going to do it. I believe we’re going to get it right,” the Nigerian star said.
The Nigeria U23 striker believes the Dream Team VI can achieve its ultimate ambition of winning gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after Nigeria became the first side to qualify for the quarterfinals following victories over Japan and Sweden.
Etebo was impressive in Nigeria’s 1-0 over Sweden on Sunday registering no less than nine goal attempts during the largely one-sided contest but a top class performance by the Sweden goalkeeper, Andreas Linde, prevented him from adding to his four-goal tally in the tournament.
Former Nigerian international, Friday Ekpo was not too surprised by the performance of the Dream Team V1 in Rio.
In a telephone chat with THISDAY, Ekpo said Nigerian teams had a way of shocking the world when all hopes were lost.
“The shabby way the team travelled was not good for the image of the country and such attitude should be investigated and the culprit brought to book. But in spite of everything, I was never at any time in doubt about the ability of the team. Those that are very conversant with Nigerian sports would know that we have a way of pulling surprises when the chips are really down.
Something close to this surrounded our travelling to Atlanta in 1996 but we returned with a gold medal,” Ekpo said.
Also speaking from his base in the United States, 1984 Africa Cup of Nations silver-medalist, Paul Okoku, said he was taken aback by the team’s exploit in Rio considering the unhealthy manner they left Atlanta.
“I think it’s high time we change our attitude in preparing for global sporting competitions such as the Olympics. Having the talent is not always enough to excel. Proper training, preparation and planning is necessary on the big stage,” Okoku said.
He charged the tournament’s top scorer, Etebo, to put the four goals he scored against Japan behind him and concentrate on the other matches ahead.
The former Nigerian international specially praised four-goal hero, Etebo.
“He is one of the most consistence goal poachers to have emerged from the country in recent years. When he was at Warri Wolves, he justified himself and during the Olympics qualifier, he was also the top scorer. So, why should anyone be amaze that he is doing well in Rio. His greatest strength is his consistency and humility,” the former Shell of Gabon noted.
Etebo made his international debut in July 2013 against Cote d’Ivoire in a 2–0 loss in Abidjan during the 2014 African Nations Championship qualification campaign. In the summer of 2014, he went on trial at Italian Serie A side Udinese and was to be offered a contract after impressing, but a fee could not be agreed with Warri Wolves, so he returned to Nigeria.
In December 2015, he helped the Nigerian U-23 Team to the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations triumph in Senegal; finishing top scorer with 5 goals, including a brace in a 2–1 win against Algeria in the final.
In January this year, he won the Most Promising Talent of the Year award at the CAF Awards in Abuja.
In January, he joined CD Feirense as a free player after his contract with Warri Wolves FC expired at the end of the 2014/15 season.