South Africa 2010: Looking beyond the [4-2-3-1] tactical debate

The question of whether Ghana will go for survival or silverware at South Africa 2010 depends in part on Milovan Rajevac; his tactical disposition; the fitness of his players and a lot of luck.

Until pigs learn to fly, it is pretty safe to guess that Milovan Rajevac will not play an attacking strategy at South Africa 2010 World Cup. It should also not take much effort to rightly predict that Ghana will start most games lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Already, there are questions regarding how far Ghana can go with this tactic.

Historically, the classical 4-4-2 formation has evolved into the modern 4-2-3-1. The transformation began in the 1980s when teams started playing one of their two strikers as an attacking midfielder.

Since then, successful clubs and nations have very often adopted this modern tactic to above average success. France as well as Portugal played this tactic at Euro 2000 while the Spaniards depended on it at Euro 2008. Every now and then, Dunga’s Brazil has fallen on 4-2-3-1 to win matches. Clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Barcelona have all relied heavily on some variation of 4-2-3-1.

Real Sociedad coaching great Juan Manuel Lillo who is credited with the 4-2-3-1 formation once indicated that the idea of 4-2-3-1 is to pressure the opponent up high in defence, while at the same time, pressuring them with 4 attack minded players. “You have to remember that they’re pressuring to play, not playing to pressure.”

In spite of the relative success 4-2-3-1 has brought to Milovan Rajevac (e.g. finals of CHAN, ANC final and World Cup berth), there are still deep-lying doubts about its suitability for Ghana. Basically, anything outside 4-4-2 doesn’t please the Ghanaian press and fans. To them, 4-2-3-1 betrays a tacit admission of weakness and leads to negative football, which is loathed in Ghana. Of course they cannot be blamed; Ghana’s better days of football were in the 1970s, when 4-4-2 was more or less a ‘holy sacrament’.

Critics have claimed that Ghana has not beaten any credible opponent with a 4-2-3-1. According to them, even though 4-2-3-1 may have aided in strengthening Ghana’s defence, it has created shortages in attack in the absence of an efficient converter of goals. Hence, Ghana has not won against any top-notch opposition while playing the 4-2-3-1. Now since there are no below average teams in Ghana’s Group D at South Africa 2010, there are already calls for the system to be changed.

Of course proponents of The Rajevac Revolution will be quick to point out how easy it has been for Ghana to do match-winning tactical tinkering when they start out with 4-2-3-1 (Against Burkina Faso and Nigeria at Angola 2010, Black Stars went 4-4-2 when attacking and 4-2-3-1 when defending).

Perhaps we might all have to come to terms with the reality that tactical tweaks, consistency and clarity can never been a sufficient condition for success. The quality of player available is also one of many critical success factors.

As Lillo put it, “…they [the players] have to be very, very mobile and they have to be able to play when they get the ball”. So beyond the tactical debate the real issues include whether or not our players going to be fit enough for the tournament. Will they fit perfectly into this 4-2-3-1? Do we have to find another tactic which fits our set of players (like Rotomir Dujkovic did at Germany 2006)?


4 Responses to “South Africa 2010: Looking beyond the [4-2-3-1] tactical debate”

  1. 1 sliq
    May 20, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Great piece. So what will you have done in “Lipton’s”… I mean Milo’s shoes. Stay with 4-2-3-1, considering the list of his 30 man provision squad, or will you tweak it a little?

  2. 2 William Quarmine
    May 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    4-2-3-1 is about the best formation in the modern game. if U have Amoah a typical waste of space, Gyan and Tagoe to a tournament, U are better of playing a 1 top system and have Essien and co support them. So I will go for this formation

  3. June 30, 2010 at 3:43 am

    Interesting article. I’m of the opinion that Rajevac’s defence first ideology is actually well suited to Ghana, with the proof being an excellent African Cup of Nations 2010 campaign and the Black Stars’ progression to the quarter finals.

    Stamping his authority on the team hasn’t been easy for Rajevac, but for any coach of an African team it is vital to install both a system adhered to strictly and a code of ethics, so to speak, as Rajevac instilled in fining the likes of Essien and Muntari earlier this year.

    Tactically a 4-2-3-1 suits Ghana – particularly with the acquisition of KP Boateng in the midfield to supply through balls to the striker. A 4-4-2, as we’ve seen with England, would have Ghana exposed in midfield without guaranteeing extra goals despite the additional striker slot.

    4-2-3-1 is definitely the way forward for Ghana in my opinion and Rajevac is doing a great job.

    • 4 William Quarmine
      July 1, 2010 at 11:27 am

      You know Jonathan, at the time I wrote this article, there were a lot of doubts about Milovan and his 4-2-3-1. In time, Ghanaians have accepted that given the circumstances, this is the best choice for Ghana.

      You are absolutely right, Milo is doing a great job.

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