Super Eagles in Brazil: Keshi takes us back to ’94

Posted by Nelson Dafe | 25 June 2014 | 3,673 times

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It was a long and largely despairing wait. For 16 long years and in four world cups the giants of African football, Nigeria’s Super Eagles, had failed to win a single match. The appellation ‘specialist in failure’ made popular by a certain famous football manager was dancing perilously close to being fitting for the Eagles. But thankfully, the present crop of national team players, by beating Bosnia on Sunday morning in the on-going Brazil 2004 World Cup have put a gloss over Nigeria’s World Cup record.

It was a win that for many was surprising, after the disappointment of watching the Eagles draw their first game against Iran while playing a painfully monotonous long ball system against a side that gave them room to keep the ball. Iran were supposed to be Nigeria’s weakest foes, but the boys in green were struggling to look convincing and with a three man midfield consisting of players who play their professional football with top European sides the Eagles still laboured to string passes together.

The disappointment of the draw with Iran must have forced Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi to put his thinking cap firmly on his head, knowing that another lethargic performance against Bosnia would spell doom to his team’s chances of progression to the second round of the World Cup. Alas, the tactical plan Keshi came up with against Bosnia was one that harkened back to the glory days of Nigerian football, and one that, as Bosnia’s coach Safet Susic admitted took him by surprise. It was the 4-2-4 formation adopted a lot by former Super Eagles foreign Technical Adviser Clemence Westerhoff that brought Nigeria the African Nations Cup title in Tunisia in 1994 and helped Nigeria secure her first ever qualification for the World Cup in USA ’94. It was also a formation that bamboozled Nigeria’s opponents at that World Cup and one that Westerhoff’s successor Bonfrere Jo applied to great success as Nigeria’s Dream Team won the Olympics football Gold in Atlanta ’96.

For those who wonder what the 4-2-4 stands for, it simply means four defenders, two midfielders and four attackers, with two of the attackers stationed at the flanks for the purposes of giving the team width when they have the ball, and tracking the opponents fullbacks when the ball is lost, to ensure that they don’t double-up on your fullbacks to cause havoc.

It is a daring game plan that shows an intent to attack with many numbers. During Westerhoff’s spell, he usually won crucial games using this pattern. With two midfielders serving as cover for the defence and an outlet to launch attacks, there usually was Finidi George at the right flank of the attack, Emmanuel Amunike at the left, Daniel Amokachi playing as the roving attacker and Rashidi Yekini featuring as the target man waiting to pounce to get the goals. Yekini’s record high scoring rate for the Eagles is a testament to the effectiveness of the formation.

On Saturday night cum Sunday morning in Brazil, Keshi took us back to those days with good effect. Mikel and Onazi were given the onerous job of keeping the midfield tidy against a handful of Bosnian midfielders, while Osaze Odemwingie manned the right flank and Ahmed Musa on the left. As support striker was Michael Babatunde, with Emmanuel Emenike playing as top striker.

The speed with which the Eagles attacked anytime they had the ball was frightening. Though many were irritated by the seeming slowness of Mikel to move the ball, it is to be noted that during those successful Westerhof/Bonfrere years, much depended on the deep-lying midfielder (a role Mikel played on Saturday) to hold and keep the ball in order to allow the wingers to get back to attacking positions when the Eagles had to transit from defending to attacking. Mikel did that job just fine. He needn’t rush play too much only to lose the ball carelessly.

Osaze Odemwingie who was reported to have displeased Keshi by not playing to instructions against Iran covered himself in glory against the Bosnians. He was always on hand to help out right back Efe Ambrose and when he moved up field it was usually to positive effects, forcing the opponents to think twice about committing forward too much.

The 4-2-4 formation has largely given way to the 4-3-3 (with at least one defensive midfielder and two creative minded ones, or two defense oriented midfielders and an attacking one). It (the 4-2-4) has some obvious problems, not least the possibility of being overrun in the middle by a team that operates with three or four midfielders. But as we have seen in the Eagles vs Bosnia game, it can still be effective in some cases, especially when it’s applied when the opponents are not expecting it.

As the Eagles enter the pitch in about an hour for Argentina in their last group game Keshi will need to come up with another tactical surprise to try to outwit Lionel Messi and co.

•Photo shows Super Eagles Stephen Keshi.

Source: News Express

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