World Cup mystery solved: why players lie down to defend free kicks
DOHA, Qatar – As Brazilian superstar Neymar slotted a dangerous free kick on Thursday in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup for his team, one of his Serbian opponents, Andrija Zivkovic, did something that seemed curious to untrained eyes. He lowered himself to the grass, turned his back to the ball, and lay there, as if to sleep.
But he wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last player who tends to defend a free kick. The gimmick has spread throughout European football in recent years to counter dead ball wizards in the sport. After decades of free kicks in curling During walls, some began to sneak shots under leaping wall So the defending teams cleverly started isolating this low road as well.
Evolution of free kicks and walls
This back-and-forth evolutionary cycle began decades ago. Since 1913, defensive players have been required to stand at least 10 yards from the place of any free kick. For the better part of a century, football teams of all kinds lined up several players in a ‘wall’ 10 yards apart – often to cover the near side of the goal, with the goalkeeper covering the far side.
In the 1980s, or thereabouts, free kick takers started to go up and over the wall – so defenders started jumping to add two feet to the wall’s height. Once jumping became popular, some legends of the sport developed a new plan. Rivaldo went under the Milan wall to score his first goal in the Champions League treble in 2000. Ronaldinho did it in 2006 against Wolfsburg. Lionel Messi did it three times. Cristiano Ronaldo did it for Manchester United in the Premier League, and again for Real Madrid on their way to the Champions League title.
The simple solution is for the wall to remain stationary. But the preferred path remained up and over the wall. Countless curlers and washers were blocked by a jumping wall — or perhaps they were blocked by a wall that stayed in place. For years, their defense became a guessing game, dogged by a flawed choice: jump in or not.
The origins and history of recumbency
But in the past decade, the seeds of a solution have been sown in Brazil. Ronaldinho brought free kicks under the wall to his homeland. Two years later, Ricardinho, a midfielder on loan from Figueres, went almost viral as he stood behind the wall, then fell to the ground as Palmeiras playmaker Jorge Valdivia fired home from 20 yards. Valdivia tried to get past the wall, but teammates and TV viewers noticed this, recognizing Ricardinho’s genius.
This tactic slowly spread in South America, and the natural forces of innovation refined it. By 2014, some defenders are completely vulnerable.
By 2017, she had emigrated to Europe – albeit insignificantly, and in various forms. Some players were (and still do) kneeling instead of lying down. (Moving to landscape allows for more complete coverage, but can leave the player more vulnerable to injury or slightly slower to respond to the playgroup.)
In 2019, Inter Milan’s famous Marcelo Brozovic slid into position behind the wall when Luis Suarez attempted to crash under it:
By last season, the tactic had become almost universal. Some defenders even pulled teammates into position by the neck:
Qatar 2022, though, is the first World Cup to be all over the place.
Proliferation has kept free-kick goals out from under the wall largely in the past. Right now, there’s no downside to lying behind a wall—until a smart coach or player devises a play set to take advantage of.
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