It had been 44 years since a player last scored four goals in an Olympic football match, with West Germany’s Bernd Nickel the man responsible in a 7-0 win over USA in front of 65,000 in Munich.
Last Thursday, in the dry, difficult conditions of Manaus, 20-year-old striker Oghenekaro Etebo matched Nickel’s feat in Nigeria’s thrilling 5-4 win over Japan.
Oghenekaro translates as “God first”, so it was perhaps only fitting that, when reflecting on making Olympic history, Etebo expressed gratitude as well as pride. “Thank God it has happened, but what I’m most excited about was the victory,” he told FIFA.com. “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.”
Goals are in Etebo’s blood. Indeed, he’s well used to making the kind of impact he has at Rio 2016. In Etebo’s first ever Nigerian Premier League match, he scored a hat-trick. He was just 18 years old. At the end of that season, he finished as the league’s second-highest goalscorer.
“I’m not that perfect but I believe, like my coach says, once you get a chance, it’s better you convert it because you don’t know when you’re going to get another one,” he said. “I’m not a kind of special striker or fantastic goalscorer, but it’s better to be at the right place at the right time to score good goals.”
In truth, we should have seen this coming. In Senegal at the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, the qualifying tournament for Rio 2016 for the continent, who finished as the tournament’s top marksman? It was, of course, Oghenekaro.
“Now in Brazil, I scored four goals in the first game,” Etebo said, not able to hold back a smile, one of disbelief mixed with delight. “When I scored those goals, I didn’t think about anything. It’s a game of football! Luck was on my side.”
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 said. “He’s playing for Manchester United and his name is Wayne Rooney. I really like him a lot from day one.”
The England captain would surely have admired the natural way Etebo scored his goals, while nonchalantly 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,” the Nigeria star said. “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, to listen to his instructions that he has given for every game.
“I believe we’re going to do it. I believe we’re going to get it right.”