With just hours to spare, the Nigerian Olympic football team will travel to Brazil on Thursday to make its match against Japan in Manaus.
Thanks to a tab temporarily picked up by Delta Air Lines for the charter flight, the stranded team is expected to land in Brazil at 2 p.m. local time. This gives the team just enough time to clear customs and stretch before kickoff at 9 p.m.
Originally, the team was supposed to fly out July 29, manager Samson Siasia said. But an unpaid charter flight bill kept the team grounded in Atlanta, according to CNN Atlanta affiliate CBS 46.
“[The Nigerian Olympic football team] were stranded at the airport and almost not going to make their match against Japan,” said Reese McCranie, director of policy and communications for Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta. The airport decided to work with Delta to make sure the team made its match on time, he said.
Delta has not only footed the check for a private charter flight for the team from Atlanta to Manaus, but the airline also has put the team up in a hotel for the night in Atlanta.
All this came down to a moment’s notice, according to Delta.
“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.”
The Nigerian Football Federation posted a video of the historic moment in Atlanta on August 3, 1996, captioning the video: “Our Dream Team won gold in the football event of the Atlanta Olympic games #20YearsAgoInAtlanta
The team told Delta it chose to train in Atlanta because of that gold win 20 years ago. In an interview with CNN when team members arrived to train in Atlanta, Siasia expressed his happiness at being in Atlanta and foreshadowed the team’s difficulty in getting on a flight: “Well, we are here [Atlanta], that’s a good thing … we are having struggles here and there like every federation but the [Nigerian Football] Federation is behind us to make sure we are prepared well to the Olympics.”
The Nigerian team is flying down on a charter that takes sports teams to their destinations. This makes the players happy, Siasia said. “The players will have more leg room and they will be able to sleep on their way to Manaus.”
After the team rushes to get to their match on time Thursday, all bills will be paid back by the Nigerian Football Federation.