After traveling the day of the game to Manaus due to an incredible traveling snafu, Nigeria beat Japan 5-4 on Thursday night in a crazy Group B showdown.
Japan had the first opportunity of the match in the 3rd minute. After nice link up play down the left side of the pitch, Hiroki Fujiharu curled in a cross to the backpost that midfielder Ryota Ohshima directed first time on goal.
No more than two minutes later, however, Nigeria would take the lead 1-0. Imoh Ezekiel turned his defender inside the penalty area and fired a shot on goal that was parried away by Japan goalie Masatoshi Kushibiki but right to the feet Sadiq Umar who tapped home the rebound.
Nigeria’s lead wouldn’t last long as defender Stanley Amuzie clumsily fouled a Japanese attacker in the penalty area in the 7th minute. Forward Shinzo Koroki promptly buried the penalty kick to even the match at 1-1.
However, the tie game wouldn’t last long. Nigerian defender Abdullahi Shehu broke free down the right side and lofted a long cross into the penalty area that was magnificently controlled and finished by forward Etebo.
But it seemed as though defending would be at a premium in this game as Japan would level things just two minutes later. Takumi Minamino took a weighted pass in stride towards goal and swiftly slotted the ball through Nigerian goalie Daniel Emmanuel’s legs. After only thirteen minutes, the contest was squared up at 2-2.
In the 19th minute, Amuzie ventured forward and rifled a long range shot that was pushed out for a corner kick by Kushibiki.
After a period of four goals in five minutes, the game settled down with both teams having spells of play in each others' ends of the field. However, out of virtually nothing, the back of the net would be struck again by Nigeria. On the stroke of halftime, Etebo would score his second goal of the game and give Nigeria a 3-2 lead as he capitalized on a failed clearance by a Japanese defender from six yards out.
That would be the final action of a crazy first half with the "Super Eagles" ahead 3-2 going into the interval.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Nigeria would earn a penalty after Umar was dragged down in the box by a Japanese defender. Etebo stepped up and ferociously completed his hat-trick, blasting the ball past Kushibiki to give his team a 4-2 lead.
As the game progressed, Nigeria's confidence continued to grow. Evidenced by spells of strong possession and attractive attacking movements, the Africans' grip on the game became stronger. A fifth goal was in the cards and that came in the 66th minute from Etebo, who impressively notched his fourth goal of the game. John Obi Mikel's cross was cleared by Kushibiki after he raced out of his net but it went right to the feet of Etebo, who then deposited the ball into the vacant net for the 5-2 lead.
After giving up three straight goals, Japan would get a goal back in the 70th minute after Fujiharu broke down the left side and slid a pass across the face of goal to Takuma Asano, who then cleverly backheeled the ball into the net to cut the scoreline to 5-3.
Japan pressed further in the final twenty minutes of the contest and were able to unlock the Nigerian defense one last time in stoppage time. Musashi Suzuku curled a shot from inside the box past Emmanuel Daniel after twisting his defender to shrink Nigeria's lead to one. And that was that. In perhaps the wildest game of the day, Nigeria emerged victorious over Japan 5-4.
The 2015 U-23 African Cup of Nations champions are now in first place in Group B, with Colombia and Sweden tied for second, and Japan in last place.
Nigeria’s next game is against Sweden on Sunday at 6pm in Manaus while Japan duels with Colombia at 9pm at the same venue.