In Nigeria’s first 3 games in Afcon 2022, Austin Eguavoen demonstrated that the 4-4-2 constellation can be a ruthless tactical option for Nigeria particularly against low-to-average oppositions. Nigeria scored 6 goals in just 3 group games.
Little wonder Peseiro praised Nigeria’s application against Tunisia in the doomed slim second round loss to Tunisia.
“The Super Eagles were better than Tunisia even with ten men they created enough opportunities to score and win the match,” said Peseiro. “Of course you the people, the fans, sometimes you can not see that because of the emotion close your eyes but for me I saw in that moment.” He concluded.
That was the statement of a coach who shares similar tactical philosophy with Eguavoen as they both deploy the same formation.
But the difference is in the interpretation of that philosophy and the discipline instilled in the players to maintain the shape of the formation and fully maximise the possibilities it presents.
Also, Peseiro appears to have an option B against stubborn oppositions. I said it on several platforms that Eguavoen was on to something fascinating. But he lacked the vision and insight to adapt his methods to changing and challenging circumstances.
Hopefully Peseiro will improve on areas where Eguavoen faltered using exactly the same formation but tweaking it and adapting it based on opponents.
Isn’t it interesting that the sort of crosses that Eguavoen espoused and promised led to Nigeria’s first goal yesterday. With Calvin Bassey, we are seeing more and more of those crosses.
The same sort of precision driven through-ball that led to the chance that Sadiq Umar fumbled against Tunisia at the Afcon is now becoming a staple under Peseiro.
Peseiro seems to know what Nigeria fans want attacking-wise. Wing play, two strikers up front and a box-to-box midfielder.
But, frailties remain in this fragile formation, frailties that doomed Eguavoen because he was unable to identify the formation’s shortcomings let alone address these.
“The game against Sierra Leone for me was not that bad,” said Ex-Super Eagles wingback Ifeanyi Udeze. “Remember that we played without a defensive midfielder and for me that was a problem for the team.” He concluded.
And for me too, that is one of the achilles heels of this formation. Where will Ndidi fit in Peseiro’s flat 4-4-2 when the Leicester City man comes back from injury? Eguavoen found out to his detriment against Tunisia that Ndidi does not offer any sort of goals threat.
That formation allowed Ndidi to get into promising positions against Tunisia at the Afcon(the same sort of position that Partey got into for Ghana’s fatal goal outside Nigeria’s 18 yard box in Abuja). But Ndidi’s shots were embarrassingly awful.
Goals aside, that formation appears to only accommodate two midfielders: one attacking midfielder and one centre midfielder. The absence of a defensive midfielder in that design can still be ruthlessly exploited by a more technically grounded team. A Covid ravaged Tunisia downed Eguavoen.
However, my only consolation is that Jose Peseiro appears to have a plan B and C if things aren’t going so well. He did that against Ecuador where he switched from 3-5-2 in the first half to 4-4-2 in the second half to calming effect.
And, when his team plays 4-4-2, Peseiro appears to avoid the trappings of the system mutating into 4-2-4 uncontrollably (which collapsed the midfield entirely under Eguavoen and left the wingers isolated and easily curtailed thereby cutting meaningful supplies to the centre forwards).
It is unfortunate for Eguavoen because, with more technical grounding and sagacity with better imagination, flexibility and creativity, he could have gone farther than he did with this Super Eagles.
We now have Peseiro who is not a success yet, it is early days. 4-4-2 has trappings and it creates illusions. When Gernot Rohr tried it against Sierra Leone, he raced to a 4:1 lead only to come back crashing to earth. When Eguavoen tried it, he was the best coach in the whole of the Afcon tournament in the group stages only to end up as one of the worst coaches in the history of the Super Eagles.
Four-Four-Two formation is undoubtedly a double edged sword.
Will Peseiro be able to avoid and navigate around the trappings and pitfalls of this controversial formation (which most A-listed coaches avoid like a plague)?
Only time will tell.
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