How the Eagles shaped up against Namibia

By Nduka Orjinmo

So what was your shape in the match?” I asked Stephen Keshi during the post match meeting on Sunday.

“Shape, what do you mean by shape?” He threw back at me, provoking a round of laughter from those around.

I already constituted a nuisance, and the NFF media officer, Ademola Olajire wasn’t going to let that happen so he had given the floor to someone else, someone from his trustworthy band who asked the regular questions.

But the big boss was still looking at me, daring me for getting under his skin and trying to intimidate me with a mean glare.

I seized my opportunity, ignored the regular man who had the floor, snubbed the NFF spokesman and above the hymn of voices in the room, I told coach Keshi that his team played a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Then I saw it in his eyes, the look on all the coaches when I ask my regular question.

From my man Stanley Eguma to John Obuh to Dominic Iorfa, to Muhammad Dogo coach Keshi did not amaze me with that look.

Only Imama Amapakabo was able to answer, so I was not surprised.

But how did the Eagles fare on the day?

The choice of Gabriel Reuben in midfield ahead of Fengor Ogude had come to many as a huge surprise.

Many had even thought that Enyimba’s Henry Uche would have been given the starting role ahead of Reuben, who I still don’t know where he plays for. Even Wikipedia has no page of him.

Anyways, Gabriel plays for Kano Pillars.

But he was my man of the match against Namibia and not Ike Uche who missed a basket of goals equal to the carton of tom tom candies he won as man of the match, added to the five thousand dollars he received then blew in Calabar.
It took me a while to get a grip of how the Eagles shaped up, and my vision wasn’t helped by giant pillars at the media tribune and the floodlights at the U.J Esuene stadium that were on from the blast of the whistle, though it was still shinning bright.

Most people around me said it was a 4-3-3, others a 4-4-2, someone even mentioned a 4-2-4 while a trustworthy head said it was a 4-2-2-1-1.

But do you blame the speculations? After all, even the coach could not say.

But I think it was a 4-2-3-1 formation that looked like this.

The choice of Victor Moses in the hole behind the sole striker came as a surprise to me.

Moses is a good runner with the ball, an excellent dribbler with a good shot also, but that is where it ends.

Moses is not the best passer of the ball, and the pitch did also not help me in any way as he accounted for so many stray passes.

Though you have to credit the Namibians who sat very tight on him as even he did admit after the match, it was clear that he did not flourish in what must have been a strange role to him. Naturally he stayed too far off the two deep lying central midfielders behind him, and failed also in his defensive duties.

He often switched roles with Ike Uche upfront, was caught upfront with Uche, or shunted out to the left where he normally plays for Wigan.

This created a gulf in the middle because neither Gabriel Reuben nor Obiora Nwankwo was willing to step further outfield and fill the space when Moses was not there.

The creative duties on the day fell on the shoulders of Ejike Uzoenyi on the left who lacked incision however.

The Namibians only needed to put two men in the wide space between Victor Moses and the deep lying central midfielders of Obiora and Gabriel.

So on the score of his positioning and playing with two very deep lying central midfielders with no creative edge, I would put the formation at 4 defenders, 2 deep midfielders (Obiora and Gabriel), a bank of 3(Utaka, Moses and Uzoenyi) with a 1(Uche) upfront.

Victor Moses’ positioning wasn’t one of a third creative midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation.

The presence of two deep lying midfielders also did not make it a 4-4-2 formation.

Utaka and Uzoenyi helped out comprehensively in defending, so it couldn’t have been a 4-2-4.

Most likely it could have been a 4-2-2-1-1 with moses playing a free role, after all he moved freely upfront and had two midfielders behind him whose duty it was to defend.

But again, he wasn’t too fantastic in the creative role such a formation entails, his passing for connectivity and link play as the focal man could have been better. I would stick with the 4-2-3-1.

We also played the game with inverted midfielders. Right footed John Utaka on the left, left footed Ejike Uzoenyi on the right.

What this offers is that both men can switch on to their stronger foot and come inside on the weak foot of their markers.

Utaka is right footed so better suited to use both feet. He could go left or right as it suited him, and he made good use of it.

When he came inside, Juwon Oshaniwan utilized the space he created and bombed forward. Only his first touch and a limited number of passes undercut his constant forays upfront.

The Sharks man has to work on his recovery rate if he hopes to ship out Taye Taiwo, on different occasions the ball was played in behind him.

For Uzoenyi on the right, there was only one foot available for him, and so he always came inside on his strong left foot.

Severally he fed crosses into the area, had fable shots on goal and picked a pass or two.

He didn’t look short on confidence though he showed the occasional naiveté that can still be tolerated at this level of qualifiers. He can be improved upon. In the second half he was moved to his left wing role at Rangers, and it was even he who floated in the ball that led to the Uche goal.

However, the choice of Efe Ambrose to play behind him, left one to wonder what the coach was doing.

Efe is a central defender who is stoically old fashioned. Though he did go forward occasionally and did waltz pass 3 players at one point and even had a shot on, it was clear that he did not want to go forward.

And with Uzoenyi always cutting in to leave acres of space begging down the right, a much more offensive full back would surely have added to our attacking options.

Quick to come to mind is a Chidi Odia-like player.

I’m talking Chidi Ordiah in his prime and if Keshi wants to continue with his inverted wingers structure, he must use skilful full-backs who are willing to go forward and have the strength and defensive balance to be useful at the back.

Obiora Nwankwo was excellent in his tackling and was good in his positional play. Hardly stepped beyond the half way line and helped out the defence when either of the central defenders was dragged out of his position.

However, he would need to work on his diagonal passes, to fit the picture of Sunday Oliseh. He is still not there in that department.

My man of the match Gabriel Reuben was constantly snapping at the heels of the Namibian midfielders and I was not surprised as he played all ninety minutes of the match.

It is clear that Keshi is impressed with his strength and persistence in marking. He and Oboaboana were perhaps the only players that ended the game with the same energy they started.

Though he was guilty of man marking earlier on in the game-proof of his inexperience as he chased men and was dragged out of position-he soon understood what his role was-I guess by watching Obiora-and once he did, the Namibians couldn’t find any way past him.

When the likes of the Mikel Obi returns, it would be interesting to see if Keshi would ditch his energy for some experience in the middle. He had the role of the box to box midfielder in the game, and he made so much of it, though he lacked the dribbling ability and the incisive passes that would have crowned it all.

I had expected Azubuike Egwueke to be the last man in defence, but that role surprisingly fell to Godfrey Oboabona, who is not as big as the former.

Egwueke was caught out of position at times, was twice easily beaten and for a big man, did not show much strength and steel when he charged.

Charging is the duty of the other central defender who is not the last man, and this job mostly falls to players who have quick feet, pace and are rugged for the job.

Egwueke in my opinion lacks all three, and should never have been entrusted with the task.

Aside his good aerial ability, he also has the temperament and judgement of tackle to be the last man.

The job he did should have been left to Sunshine’s Godfrey Oboabona who I think will be captain of the Eagles one day, if he continues to play well. A close look at him, revealed a man who thirsts for victory and who is ready to carry the burden of seeing that through.

He covered up most of the time for his partner Egwueke and was solid in his tackle. He should have been given the role given to Egwueke and he would have flourished in it.

He is comfortable with the ball on his feet, can pick a pass, brings the ball out of defence and is calm under pressure. Above all, he is blessed with a bull’s energy. The Eagles built up play from the defence and goalkeeper Vincent Eyeama was key to this. I counted 22 balls he served shot to his defenders and most of it fell to Oboabona who brought it out.

The biggest disappointment of the day has to be Ahmed Musa who came in for John Utaka. He moved to his favourite right wing position while Uzoenyi switched to the left. However, I don’t know whether his decision to hug the line was an instruction from the bench or a decision of his.

Whichever way, it was unsuccessful as he showed no flash of his trademark pace and his first touch let him down too often when he managed to see the ball. He was anonymous, failed to track back and at one point Coach Keshi had to step out to shout at him.

Kalu Uche came in as the Eagles were searching for the goal, and the Enyimba man offered a different option upfront. Big and strong and good with his back to the goal, he held up the ball pretty well and made his presence felt in the Namibian defence for the short time he was on the field.

For a big man though, he would have to do more with his head.


1. Keshi has not bought into the delusion of most Nigerians who want to go back to the days when we had Finidi George, Emmanuel Amuneke and Rashidi Yekini. Those were the days of the flat 4-4-2. His decision to employ inverted midfielders means we are in touch with the times and have decided to move forward.

2. Keshi is interested in playing possession football. Vincent Enyeama served 22 short balls as proof of this. Perhaps gone are the days of hitting the ball into the sky, police football like.

3. The big boss is in charge, atleast on the field. The days of big name players can perhaps be argued to be over, though a bigger argument would be how many came to camp? While we had five home based players on the pitch, Keshi took off Utaka, Obiora and Victor Moses. That would have been unimaginable were Austin Egwuaveon still in charge.

4. Keshi needs wing backs who love to attack if he wants to continue with the inverted midfield formation. There was just so much space down the line that wasn’t exploited.

5. The team is begging for a creative midfielder that can link play up brilliantly. Victor Moses is certainly not the man for the job, as is John Mikel Obi. To think that Mikel Obi will be used as an attacking midfielder is to be living in the days of Monday Sinclair as coach. But who then to do the job?

6. Players tend to lose concentration when they are expected to switch roles. Ike Uche and Victor moses did this constantly on the day, and it looked like an instruction from the bench. If it was not, then Victor Moses is the guilty party here, as he switched off occasionally and Uche had to track back defending or searching for the ball. This has to be streamlined.

BONUS: the supporters club of Nigeria are still the only ones living in the past. As a young boy I first heard the songs at Tunisia 94’, and to think that those songs are still trending makes you question their recruitment.

You can follow Nduka Orjinmo on twitter via @orjinmonduka
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  1. I haven't read such a tactical summary of a game by a Nigerian. Hands down the best piece on such a subject I've seen. Keep it up.

  2. Good write up but so many delusional ideas from you pertaining to you dig on Moses and Mikel.. Mikel would improve the balance and creativity in a 4-2-3-1

  3. Very very great summary Did Keshi really not understand your question????

  4. i was about to criticize the article after reading the first couple of paragraphs. After reading the rest, IK man, I am proud of you. Great analysis.

  5. The article was not written by me and I won't take the plaudits for another person' work.
    It's written by Nduka Orjimno like it is stated there.
    So credit should go to him for a great write up