Football fans can watch the Nigeria vs. Japan match live online and see if the late-arriving Nigerian team can make a big impression in the 2016 Rio Olympics opener.
The teams will kick off Thursday at 9 p.m. ET (1 a.m. GMT), just hours after the Nigerian team arrived in Brazil for the Summer Games. The match will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network and also available live online (a link to the streaming video can be found below).
Just making it to Brazil has been an adventure for the Nigerian Olympic football team — and that’s not speaking of the team’s African U23 Championship tournament win last year in Senegal that gave them an automatic berth in Rio. The team was stranded in Atlanta because the plane chartered to take them to Brazil was too small.
“The players were uncomfortable with the size of the plane,” team media officer Timi Ebikagboro told BBC Sport.
The plane wasn’t scheduled to leave the United States until 8 a.m. on Thursday, with a seven-hour flight ahead of the team to arrive in Manaus for the Group B opening match.
Nigeria's football team are stuck in Atlanta…
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 3, 2016
The problem with the plane’s size came after another delay when the Nigerian team was unable to pay for the chartered flight due to a problem with bank accounts and currency conversions, BBC Sport reported.
“The money paid by the [sports] ministry for the charter flight did not hit airline’s account on Tuesday so they refused to fly the team to Brazil,” a source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told the British sports outlet.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 4, 2016
Officials at the Hartsfield International Airport worked to help get the team off the ground, working with Delta to make sure they were able to depart.
“[The Nigerian Olympic football team] were stranded at the airport and almost not going to make their match against Japan,” said Reese McCranie, the airport’s director of policy and communications for Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta (via CNN).
The Nigerian team has a big reputation to uphold in the Olympics. The team won a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the first team from outside Europe or South America to win the tournament. The team also won the silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the current squad had a strong run through the African U23 Championship last fall.
Airport officials noted the strange timing of the situation, with the Nigerian team getting stranded in the city where they won gold exactly 20 years ago.
“This is a special occasion, not only because it’s the Olympics,” Delta spokesman Anthony Black said. “Exactly 20 years ago, on this day, the Nigerian football team needed a miracle to beat Argentina to win the gold medal in Atlanta at the Olympics. Today, we are happy to help them with another miracle.”
As ESPNFC noted, Nigeria will have one of the top players in the Olympics in Azubuike Okechukwu.
Okechukwu has already been capped at full international level, though still aged 19 and playing in obscurity in Turkey. He was named the best player at last year’s African U23 Championship and has recently been linked with a move to Monaco.
But those who watch the Nigeria vs. Japan football match live online will also see a Japanese squad looking to avenge the narrow loss in the bronze-medal match at the London 2012 Olympics. The team rolled through the Asian U23 Championship, beating rival South Korea, and many expect them to advance past the knockout round at the Rio Olympics.
The Japanese squad also has a number of experienced players, ESPNFC noted, including 21-year-old Takuma Asano who made a strong debut with Arsenal.
Fans who want to watch the Nigeria vs. Japan football match live online can click here for streaming video through NBC Sports Extra. Those watching outside the United States can find a full list of broadcast partners and streaming video links here.
[Photo by Lee Jin-man/AP Images]