It is finally upon us. Today, the Super Eagles kick off their World Cup campaign against Team Melli in Curitiba. The Iranians have not had the perfect preparation in terms of logistics, but will play with heart and physicality.
Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah is likely to start in the middle behind Reza Ghoochanejhad, who top-scored in qualifying, in a 4-4-1-1. His place on the right will go to Khosro Heydari, usually a full-back. Masoud Shojaei, based in Spain with Las Palmas, will start on the left.
Their manager Carlos Queiroz built a mean defensive side with Portugal four years ago, and we must dispel the notion that Iran will be a cakewalk. On their system and style of play, tactical expert Michael Cox has this to say:
“The defensive work starts from the forwards – the front two will drop off close to the halfway line and ensure Iran stay compact – they don’t sit very deep as a unit, but instead minimise the space between front and back effectively.
“Iran will stick to a defensive-minded 4-4-1-1, which is extremely unspectacular and amongst the least interesting systems on show in Brazil. The weakness at the back might come from set-pieces, because there’s a lack of genuine height in the side, which extends to goalkeeper Rahman Ahmadi, just 6’0.”
That’s half the job done for me then.
How the Super Eagles will play is an altogether more imprecise matter though. Stephen Keshi did a lot of experimenting during the preparatory warm-up games: Scotland served as a high-pressure elimination exercise, Greece saw the (ultimately flawed) experiment of Osaze Odemwingie behind Emmanuel Emenike, and USA was a chance to utilise Keshi’s preferred 4-3-3.
While the loss to the USA was unsavoury, there was a positive: for the first 15 minutes, the midfield played like a 4-3-3’s should: lots of rotation between the trio of Ramon Azeez, John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi. All too often though, they found it difficult to play it into the final third partly because Shola Ameobi is agonizingly static (yes, I do have a talent for stating the obvious ), and partly because of Odemwingie, who kept taking up poor positions.
When the moves broke down, the problem in midfield became clear: the identity of the designated holder. I have written previously on Onazi’s unsuitability for the holding role in midfield, and am loath to go over it again. The Lazio man simply does not have the skill-set to play as an anchor, and will always concede space in front of the defence. It was his complete failure to track the run of Fabian Johnson into the box that led to Jozy Altidore’s opener.
I believe that the trio will reprise their roles again when the team files out against Iran tonight. What I do hope is that Keshi has realised the above observation, and will have Azeez as the deepest midfielder. The man from Almeria is more tactically disciplined, and will provide a better shield for the defence.
The back four picks itself. Thankfully Omeruo is back to full fitness, and should start alongside Godfrey Oboabona. Efe Ambrose will get the nod at right-back, and Juwon Oshaniwa is the one to profit from Elderson Echiejile’s unavailability for the World Cup through injury.
Why did I pick Ahmed Musa over Odemwingie? The former can infuriate with his end product on occasion, but at least understands the team’s system and his role within it. Allied to his considerable pace, and the underwhelming performance of Odemwingie in the last two games, the argument for his starting place is a lot stronger. Odemwingie simply does not get the system (yet). You can have your say on this at the end of this post.
With three technical midfielders who are also comfortable scrapping, the Super Eagles have a good chance of getting the win expected. The tempo of the passing must be high, as the Iranians stick tightly in midfield and space will be at a premium. In this sense, it is gratifying to hear the Big Boss praise the improvement of the team’s passing in training. An early goal would not go amiss either.
Hopefully, we get the win we need. Argentina’s win last night means a win here and a draw against Bosnia will be good enough to see the team through, provided Bosnia does not better our result against Iran. It’s all in our hands now.
As always, many thanks for reading. There will be a tactical review of the game tomorrow. Hopefully, it’s in a winning effort, not a post-mortem! Be sure to vote in the poll below, and leave your comments. You can also register your (dis)pleasure by following @deldorisma on Twitter. Cheers!