Free kicks are quite common in soccer, and if you have to defend them near your goal they can present a dangerous scoring opportunity for the opposing team. The best way to defend free kicks is to prepare for them before you ever have to face them. This preparation starts on the practice field and its foundation is built on strong communication with your teammates. The result of establishing this communication is the ability to quickly set up a defensive wall.
Communication is Key
Once the referee blows their whistle, the opposing team can take the free kick at their earliest convenience. Naturally your opponent is not going to wait for you to prepare your defense, and they will try to take advantage of the opportunity if your defense is not set.
With this in mind, make sure that you prepare your defensive formations in advance. Who will be the field player responsible for taking direction from the goalkeeper and organizing the wall? How many men will there be in the wall? Will the remaining players be man-marking the opposition, or covering in a zone defense? Think about these questions, and make sure everyone on your team knows the answer before you are forced into a situation that you aren’t prepared to deal with.
The Purpose of the Wall
The wall is primarily used to cut off the shooters angle to the post nearest to the spot of the free kick. This allows the keeper to shift over to the far corner and cover the other half of the goal. That’s not to say that the shooter can’t kick the ball over the wall into the near corner, it simply allows the goalie some wiggle room to cheat a little bit in the hope that the wall serves as a deterrent.
When to Use the Wall?
The wall should be used whenever the goalkeeper feels they can’t comfortably get to any point of the goal that could potentially be reached from the spot of the free kick. The formation of a wall is at the discretion of the goalkeeper. If the keeper asks for a wall, make one as swiftly as possible.
The anchor — also known as the rope man — is the person who takes the outermost position of the defensive wall. They are the player who is responsible for taking direction from the goalkeeper and moving the wall in accordance with the keeper’s instruction in order to cut off the opposing shooter’s angle.
The anchor should be a reliable player who the other teammates respect and can take direction from without question. The anchor should also be able to think quickly, and adapt should the circumstances of the play shift.
Hot Tip: The Rope Man
If you are having difficulty understanding or explaining the geometrical concept of cutting down angles for the shooter, there is a very simple method you can use to demonstrate it. During practice, simply take a long piece of rope and tie it to the goal post nearest to the spot of the free kick. Have the anchor player hold the rope while the goalkeeper positions the wall. The rope will demonstrate the line of sight of the shooter, and once they can no longer see the near post, the wall is set in the appropriate position.
Normally a wall is composed of no less than two and no more than five players, depending on the distance from the goal and the skill of the shooter. The keeper must also consider whether the free kick is direct or indirect. The difference between the two is that an indirect kick cannot be shot straight into the goal without touching another player first.
The number of players that compose the wall is up to the keeper. It tends to vary depending on where the keeper perceives a threat. If the spot of the shot is at a poor angle for the shooter, the wall may require fewer players than if it comes from the center of the field. If the keeper tells you to get in the wall, do it. It’s the keeper’s job to organize the defense and there isn’t enough time to debate a poor decision. Ultimately, if the decision was a mistake it will fall on the goalie’s shoulders. So listen, follow instruction, and explain your reservations after the match
In addition to determining the placement of the wall and the number of teammates in it, the keeper must also be aware of roaming opposing players and ensure that they are properly marked. This can be done with either a man-marking system or a zonal-marking system, depending on how many players are already in the wall.
The non-wall players should also be aware of opposing players who are offside. The offside rule applies for both direct and indirect free kicks, so if the remaining defenders move up field right before the kick is taken, they have an opportunity to catch opposing attackers offside.
Breaking the Wall
The players in the wall should maintain their shape until the moment the ball passes them. Many young players naturally shy away from the incoming shot or jump as it comes in, but this doesn’t help anyone. The best way to help your team is by standing your ground until the shot either deflects off you, or clears your position. At this point, the players in the wall should immediately rush to the keeper’s aide by picking up opposing players or clearing any deflections.
Calling for the Ball
As the general of the defense, it is the goalkeeper’s job to call for the ball if they want to make a play on it. This action has a dual effect:
- It scares the opposing attackers who are charging into the box trying to score.
- It notifies the goalkeeper’s teammates that they don’t need to clear the shot.
The importance of communication cannot be stressed enough and it all starts with the keeper.
Restarting the Play
Once the ball has been secured by the keeper or goes out of play, every defender who was involved in the previous play should be aware and ready for the next move. Attacking teams tend to get lackadaisical in the immediate aftermath of an easy scoring opportunity, which is the perfect time to mount a counterattack. Once your team has secured the ball again, get ready to transition and charge up the field in the opposing direction.