By Sulaiman Adebayo
After a four-year emotional journey, Nigerians can now enjoy their darling Super Eagles at the World Cup; a relief for all football lovers, and an opportunity to grace the biggest football showpiece in the world.
However, one cannot stop asking the biggest question rocking the minds of everyone across the nation; how prepared are we?
Regular playing time at club level and recent form have been the basis of selection for most coaches, but that can’t be said about Stephen Keshi’s trusted soldiers. Efe Ambrose, Vincent Enyeama and Emmanuel Emenike are the only players featuring regularly at their respective clubs. Peter Odemwingie, if invited, can also be in this category of regulars.
Apparently, we cannot use the success of the squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations to measure the chances of the Super Eagles at the World Cup; it would be a death knoll. Football at the world level is a different ball game; bearing in mind the poor outing of the team at the Confederations Cup in Brazil last year, one cannot be too confident of the same squad.
The World Cup is not a grooming ground for growing players, neither is it an experimental tournament for youngsters and average or untested players. Meanwhile, with Keshi, all of these ideologies may not apply; he has demonstrated an ability to transform untested players like Sunday Mba, and for them to deliver beyond performance expectation at a tournament.
Can Keshi pull another Mba out of the hat?
The immediate hurdles for Keshi and his men come in the first group stage.
Two teams that possess tremendous quality in attack but not too strong defensive line -Bosnia and Argentina –are the two strong teams in the group. Bearing this in mind, I believe the newly-tested formation of Keshi against Mexico will be the best approach to start the adventure in Brazil.
Against Mexico in the friendly, Keshi surprised everyone for opting for a 4-4-1-1 with a deep central midfield and pace on the flanks. This 4-4-1-1 shows the tactical flexibility of Keshi, and allows for a deep-lying central midfielder and a swift winger on the flanks. Ramon Azeez, John Ogu, Sunday Mba, Lukman Haruna or even Joel Obi (if fit) can be drafted in the deep role, offering support and strength in depth.
Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses are suspects to be on the flanks, taking into consideration their speed which can pose a huge threat to Bosnia and Argentina’s defence. This will create better opportunities with a compact midfield and good counter attack.
The deeper position will allow the central players to sit in front of the back four in a compact position to deny the opposition forward and midfield space. This will afford the wingers leeway to punish teams on the break.
Victor Moses | The Lethal Weapon
The symphonic partnership of Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo in the heart of defence can help the team; their adaptation and understanding worked quite well during AFCON. Meanwhile, the new boy on the block, Leon Balogun, and the strong Azubike Egwuekwe can be reliable backups.
Vincent Enyeama, the 31-year-old with 20 clean sheets for Lille this season, will obviously retain the number one berth with Austin Ejide and Chigozie Agbim as the second and third choices respectively.
Goalkeeping may not be an issue to bother about for now.
Considering the striking force, which used to be a huge issue, Keshi may have just found his way to making lemonade with the available lemons.
Now, when you think about the striking force of the team, the regulars will first come to mind: Emmamuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Shola Ameobi, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Obinna Nsofor, Shola Ameobi, Bright Dike and the new faces Imoh Ezekiel and Michel Uchebo.
While these strong, agile, and skilful players are even still fighting to be in the frontline, we may ask a big question; what are the chances of Peter Odemwiegie and Ike Uche? Considering only current playing form and experience, there could well be slots for both players in Keshi’s team; it may however be a tough decision for the Big Boss.
In-form Odemwingie | A case for inclusion
Keshi has used his man-management skills to build a team of disciplined, resilient and hard-to-beat men who always hunger for the result with an all-positive disposition.
In this light, I wish to summarise my submissions/suggestions as such;
• Keshi should adopt the 4-4-1-1 formation in order to split the defence of the teams in our group.
• Players in good form in their respective clubs should be invited (should be the wish of every coach anyway).
• Lastly, the NFF should leave Keshi to do his job; every possible interference should be absolutely avoided.
Attention now turns to the next friendly against Scotland on the 28th of May. It is an encounter where I would love to see the 4-4-1-1 formation experimented with once again by Keshi, and perhaps adopted as the team gets ready for the Mundial in Brazil.
Hopefully, Super Eagles can achieve the semi-final spot at the World Cup in Brazil (I pray without being too ambitious).