The Cameroonian senior team is quite a predictable team, going by their line up and formations considering their journey to the AFCON title, their AFCON qualification matches so far, and their FIFA Confederations Cup outing this year.
The Indomitable Lions have either lined up a 4-3-3 formation or a 4-4-2, and have maintained — almost entirely — the same starting line-up throughout the aforementioned period.
Going by our neighbor’s exploits especially on African soil, it would be foolhardy for Nigeria to line up a 3-man central defense in a 3-4-3, or 3-5-2 formation.
Let’s consider 5 reasons why Nigeria must not thread this risky path:
1. Would Limit Our Attacking Threat.
Should Nigeria adopt a 3-man defense formation, it would mean we would have to rely on our wingers to do more defensively. As it stands, Nigeria has only two defensively minded wingers in Victor Moses, and Moses Simon — and maybe Oghenekaro Etebo, who has only been seen operating from the midfield for the Super Eagles. Giving these trio more defensive duties, will reduce our attacking capability. Nigeria cannot afford to loose the attacking steam Chelsea’s Victor Moses have always brought while donning the white and green. He remains the only player with an unwavering forceful presence charging forward, if our recent games is anything to go by. We cannot afford to reduce the effectiveness of a man who brings steel and skill, and can not only match the Cameroonian Full-Backs pound for pound, but can also get past them with his trickery. We need this king of forward presence all-match long if we are really serious about getting the maximum points.
2. A Case Against Benching our Full-Backs
A 3-man center defense Super Eagles team, could mean there would be no need for throwing in an experienced Left-Back in Elderson Echiejile, and an untested but solid Right-Back in Ola Aina. The latter has very strong attributes in providing timely crosses, making key passes, and getting past markers. It will take these attributes for any defender to handle the likes of Benjamin Moukandjo (his likely match-up) — who has little or nothing to offer Cameroon defensively. Hence, Aina would be able to get the better of him man to man, and should be able to limit the 28 year old’s attacking threat. We cannot afford not to take advantage of this upper-hand this this likely match-up presents.
In the case of Echiejile, he is the most experienced in the Nigerian back-line. Although Balogun’s presence have been very assuring of recent, one cannot underestimate the need for a more experienced player at the back in this all important encounter.
3. The Balogun-Ekong Partnership
With the return of Leon Balogun, Nigeria has a familiar center-back partnership in Leon Balogun and William “King Kong” Troost-Ekong, that has proved solid in recent times. There would be no need for a third center-back especially as Nigeria is blessed with defensive midfielders that cannot only provide cover to the center-backs but can also play as center-backs themselves. With the likes of Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi, captain John Mikel Obi and John Ogu in Super Eagles’ midfield set up, adding another center back to the line up would be a waste of resource, and can interfere with good distribution of roles in the midfield. The center of the back-line is already covered and solid this way — with Balogun-Ekong working together.
4. Our Opponent’s Wide Forward Formation
As earlier stated, Cameroon would likely line up again in thier familiar formation. But their most recent formation is 4-3-3, which means they could resort to playing wide with skillful wingers that have been known for capitalizing on leaky flanks with dribbling and crossing. With this in mind, our full-back positions will have to be at least manned, and at most fortified with defensive wingers we already have. Playing without dedicated full backs would be risky, and could prove counter-productive.
5. Doing the High-risk Unfamiliar
Nigeria last played a 3-man central defense under the tutelage of the White Witch Doctor (as he was commonly known), Phillipe Trousier, 20 years ago. Even down to this Gernot Rohr era, Nigeria has never tested a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation, competitively. To try something new in a crucial encounter like this, is tantamount to shooting oneself between two toes and hoping that one would miss either toe entirely. The first leg tie in Uyo, is a must win. However, Cameroon will be playing the game as if it were in Yaounde. They are more desperate for the maximum points as they are behind Nigeria in the log. Rohr must do everything to stay comfortably ahead, and that means he must adopt what has worked in the past — a 4-man defense line.