For the last month, the Nigerian men’s Olympic soccer team has been training in the metro Atlanta area. They scrimmaged the Atlanta Silverbacks, they played a (rescheduled) friendly with the Charleston Battery, and they played local all-star teams in preparation for the 20th anniversary of their Olympic gold medal triumph in 1996.
However, with their first match in less than 36 hours in Manaus, the team is in danger of not arriving in time.
Unfortunate. And sad. Team still st the hotel, but have been told they will leave at 10am. That's an hour from now https://t.co/HBAr85Q8Rz— Colin NOT Collins (@ColinUdoh) August 3, 2016
A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation told BBC Sport:
"The Nigerian government [sports ministry] is responsible for booking the tickets for the team to travel but we heard there is a logistical mix-up with payments,"
An unnamed player in the squad told the BBC:
"We've been told to get ready to fly out in few hours but that's been the story since last week."
CBS-46 in Atlanta reported that the team was supposed to depart Atlanta last Friday. Their story said that the Nigeria Sports Ministry is “in part responsible for booking the tickets” for the team.
Vanguard Newspapers reported that as of 9 p.m. Nigerian time yesterday, the team was still waiting for the money to be sent for their chartered flight.
On Monday, BBC writer and broadcaster Oluwashina Okeleji tweeted:
#RoadToRio— Oluwashina Okeleji (@oluwashina) August 1, 2016
U23s to leave Atlanta for Manaus on a chartered plane. Alternate player Godwin Saviour returning to his club for pre-season.
The team’s training camp in Atlanta was hosted by United Soccer Africa. Dirty South Soccer requested an update on the team’s status from United Soccer Africa last night, those requests went unanswered.
Many rumors have swirled around the team during their stay in Atlanta. ESPN FC reported on a story that captain John Mikel Obi donated $30,000 to his teammates. The Vanguard Newspaper has reported on issues with the trip from the beginning, stating that an individual sponsor covered the first ten days of the trip, then it was up to the government and the NFF to start paying.
The coach of the team, Samson Siasia, and the Youth and Sports Development Minister, Solomon Dalung, are having issues and Vanguard reported that it appears Dalung is relying on John Mikel Obi instead of Siasia to assume control of the team. Questions have been raised for a month about who arranged for the U.S. based training camp and who was arranging for the funding.
UPDATE- 4:00 P.M.
- The team is still in Atlanta, with the time ticking down towards kickoff for their opening match. Nigeria is scheduled to play Japan in their Group B opener tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. The chartered flight to Manaus will roughly take eight hours in the air.
- allnigeriasoccer.com reported that the team checked out of the Hotel Indigo at 2:40 p.m. Eastern time is still waiting on word to depart for the airport.
UPDATE- 6:00 P.M.
Dream Team now at the airport pic.twitter.com/IVLUHxLFfN— Timi Ebikagboro (@ebikagboro) August 3, 2016
Not sure of the departure time, but the team has left the hotel and is now at the airport. The flight has been reported as taking between 7-10 hours, not sure of the exact time. Kickoff is now 27 hours away in Manaus.
UPDATE- 6:30 P.M.
The trip has been postponed until 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning according to team official Timi Ebikagboro.
Breaking, trip cancelled, team heading back to hotel, plane too small, FG hires Delta Airline flight for team, flight is 7am tomorrow 1/2— Timi Ebikagboro (@ebikagboro) August 3, 2016
Players were not too comfortable with the size of craft so made an appeal which the FG listened to and so hired the flight, it leaves 2/3— Timi Ebikagboro (@ebikagboro) August 3, 2016
Leaves 7am and arrives 2pm in Manaus, players will be well taken care of by the medical team on the flight, all is happy— Timi Ebikagboro (@ebikagboro) August 3, 2016
UPDATE- 10:00 P.M.
Martin Rogers at the USA Today has some updated information on the Nigerian team’s flight arrangements for tomorrow. Delta has stepped up in a big way to help the team. They flew a special plane in from Cincinnati tonight to prepare it for the Nigerian teams’ trip to Manaus.
The plane is one often used to transport NBA teams to games and will provide as much comfort as possible to a team that will play their opening match hours after landing. The Nigerian government is paying for the Delta plane, according to Rogers.