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Despite Stephen Keshi's recent experimentation with a 4-4-1-1, the 4-3-3 formation still represents the Super Eagles' best bet at the World Cup, according to this feature.

By Ude Ikenna Ezekiel

The 2014 World Cup, the biggest football showpiece on the planet, is not more than 64 days away.

Stephen Keshi, from taking the job until the international friendly against Italy, had been playing with a 4-3-3 formation. It was this same formation that won him the AFCON trophy 13 months ago in South Africa, and which he employed at the Confederations Cup.

However, due to the loss of form of Sunday Mba, such an important component of that formation, the coach was left with no option than to try out few other players in that position with no one making a strong claim to that 'Third Man’ role. Against Italy at Craven Cottage, Keshi introduced the old 4-4-1-1 formation in order to limit the effect of the unavailability of the third man in the midfield.

In the above formation, the two central midfielders were both involved in breaking down their opponents attacks and as well building up the Eagles’ own offensive. Going by the ‘End justifies the Means’ theory, the pattern did pay off as both the main striker and the supporting striker in the original No. 8 role scored to secure a 2-2 draw.

However, the 4-4-1-1 formation itself has many tactical shortfalls. Not only does it encourage a team to be reactive, it also creates a wide gap between the midfielders and the supporting striker upfront. This is because before the central midfielders can supply the player in the No. 8 role, they not only have to win the ball from their opponents but must also move forward across the half-way line, thereby exposing the centre-backs.

Onazi | His Qualities suit the 4-3-3, but is he compromised in a 4-4-1-1?

For a team with mobile and fast central midfielders, the 4-4-1-1 might be a good option but considering the fact that Ogenyi Onazi, who is mobile, has to be paired with John Obi Mikel, who is not, this is not an approach that sits comfortably with the players available to the coach.

With Sunday Mba now back in form in the French Ligue 2, and given the risks of the 4-4-1-1 pattern, now might be the best time to revert back to the 4-3-3 formation.

Not only does this formation provide the much needed attacking frame for the team, it also limits any effects of a lack of mobility that could affect the team's transition from defence to attack. Given the attacking promise of the three aforementioned midfielders, the 4-3-3 will afford any of them the opportunity to spearhead the team’s counter-attacks as soon as the team regains possession.

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Mba’s fine strike against Cote d’Ivoire in the AFCON quarter-final was a fine example of how this is possible. Bright Dike’s goal against Catalonia ahead of the tournament is another glowing example.

Should Nigeria progress beyond the group stage, they will likely encounter teams who possess great attacking menace—in these instance, attack might be the best form of defence. The 4-3-3 allows the Super Eagles to cause problems for the opposition and hopefully disrupt their offensive ambitions.

This was evident during the Confederations Cup, when Keshi’s 4-3-3 caused problems for Spain; La Roja, typically accustomed to teams who defended against them, appeared taken aback by the Super Eagles’ adventure.

This formation gives the Eagles defensive balance as well as an attacking balance, and should the players hit the World Cup in form, Keshi's team should be in a good position to beat the weaker teams and, at least, give themselves a fighting chance against stronger opposition.

All in all the formation will create a greater opportunity to score goals even when under severe attack from their opponents owing to the possibilities that exist for speedy counter attacks. With the above formation in place, the Super Eagles fans should prepare to see their team travel deep into the competition at the elite footballing showpiece. 

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