Monday, March 24, 2014

Dissecting the Eagles attack

Eagles. Pic courtesy

The recent friendly game with the El Tri of Mexico at the Georgia Dome had a lot of pointers to how Nigeria might strategise for games and also showed a glimpse of what to expect from the Super Eagles at the World Cup in June.

Keshi, a proponent of the 4-3-3 system, surprised a lot of fans and pundits alike when he went with a rather unorthodox 4-4-1-1 formation.

Line up v Mexico. Illustration via Andrew Randa

Whether this was to counter the 5-3-2 set up by Mexico coach Miguel Hererra, so as not to lose the midfield, or was some sort of experimentation, the 'Big Boss' showed he is willing to have a plan B in case the usual formation becomes vain.

Suffice to say, the 4-4-1-1 was a bit deceptive because it morphed into a 4-5-1 on a number of occasions during the match as Michael Uchebo was to play just behind Emmanuel Emenike, dropped into the midfield and was clogging up the spaces in the midfield which disrupted a number of incursions into the Mexican third.

Onazi in action. Pic courtesy

The system was alien to some players, but that can be excused, whether Keshi has the time to fine-tune this system as a back-up plan is left to be seen, but it is pertinent to say here that it had been in the offing for some time now.

Since Keshi took over the reigns, the Super Eagles have adopted a three-man attack comprising a central striker ( Emmanuel Emenike in this case) at the tip, with runners coming in from the flanks to support him. Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses have been the favoured wide players for the major part of 

Keshi's reign and it looks to stay that least for now.

Steven Keshi. Getty Images

Ikechukwu Uche's exclusion from team after the Nations Cup in 2013 precipitated Keshi to look for options and formations in the attack that will keep the bite racing. Shola Ameobi eventually made his debut, but it took the friendly against Burkina Faso in Kaduna for this writer to be finally convinced this was the case.

Ameobi made his first start and scored his debut goal in a three-man attack that had Nnamdi Oduamadi and John Ogu as the support cast. The Eagles ran riot winning the game 4-0 with Ameobi shining like a million stars.

Uche Nwofor also got an invitation for the Mandela Challenge and a pattern started to emerge albeit silently. The SC Heerenveen man would score both goals to earn Nigeria a 2-0 win, thus probably prompting Keshi to reinforce his belief in the 'big man' role.
Attacking statistics

Between 2013 and 2014, Nigeria played a total of 30 international matches notching up about 53 goals in the process. This translates to about 1.76 goals per match. A poor return for the African champions.

The Super Eagles highest-scoring game between the two years was the 6-1 hiding of Tahiti at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Twelve matches have also ended with Nigeria scoring just one goal, another 12 with Nigeria winning with two goals or more and have had three goalless draws to add to the equation.

The Super Eagles attack has improved considerably by about 27% from 2012 till date with January 2014 being the most productive month, when a total of 14 goals were scored albeit most of it during the Chan 2014 tournament hosted by South Africa.

June, which is the month the 2014 World Cup will kick off has been a lean month for the Super Eagles in the past two years as 13 goals were scored in eight matches, a ratio of 1.62 goals per game. Clearly the team must sharpen their blades for the fiesta.


Emenike. pic courtesy

Except something dire happens, Emenike looks to be Nigeria's main man for goals at the World Cup, irrespective of the formation that the Eagles might adopt.

The Fenerbahce man has come up in leaps and bounds since making his international debut against Sierra Leone, and has proven to be Nigeria's most potent striker for about two years now.

The burly power-playing forward has notched up an impressive nine goals in 19 internationals so far and looks to lead the line, as his absence at the 2013 Confederations Cup was sorely felt.

He has also scored 13 goals in all competitions for his Turkish Super Lig side Fenerbahce, and looks to add more before the season wraps up.

Bright Dike, who is in the same mould like Emenike (who incidentally is his cousin) is out of the tournament and this might open doors for players who were in with a shot.

Brown Ideye, Shola Ameobi, Uche Nwofor, Imoh Ezekiel, Michael Uchebo will be some of the strikers that will do battle to get a slot alongside Emenike. There is also the clamour for the inclusion of Peter Odemwingie and Ikechukwu Uche.

Shola Ameobi in action. pic courtesy

The gaffer will as expected pick his squad based on what he thinks will function in his preferred 4-3-3 system, or we might just see the evolution of the set up he used against Mexico.

Whatever formation Stephen Keshi decides to put out, he will have to fashion out a system that should accommodate the personnel he has in place and improve the team's goal scoring and conversion rate.

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