Free kicks put the defending team in a vulnerable spot. They can only begin defending once the ball is put into play, and with an excellent kicker, that may be too late.
It’s not uncommon for teams to struggle when defending free kicks. Roughly 30 percent of goals are scored from set plays, including wide and central free kicks.
The only way to combat goals scored from free kicks is to develop strategies for defending them and practice them often. Here, we discuss several types of free kicks and how to defend them effectively.
Table of Contents
- How to set up a wall
- Defending different types of free kicks
How to set up a wall
Creating a solid wall is one of the most effective methods to defend against a free kick, especially a direct free kick.
A wall is a line of several defensive players. The goal is to limit the kicker’s shooting angles. A practical wall blocks roughly half of the goal, so the goalkeeper has less space to defend and a stronger likelihood of blocking a goal. The players in the wall may also block the ball and change possession.
Building the wall
A wall typically consists of four to five players but can contain as few as two. Typically, all but one player should face the kicker, while the fourth or fifth player in the wall faces the opposite direction (toward the goal). Players stand shoulder-to-shoulder to limit gaps for the ball to slide through.
The goalkeeper will put an “anchor” player into place. This player may face the goalkeeper to receive instructions, but this is not required. The anchor generally lines up with the near post to keep the ball from going to the short corner. Goalkeepers often request players build a wall 10 yards from the ball.
Protecting yourself in the wall
The players in the wall attempt to block the ball from entering the goal. This means putting yourself in the line of fire, so protection is vital. Players in the wall are permitted to protect certain areas of their bodies from the ball.
Put one arm down the front of the body to protect the groin and the other across the face. Female players may choose to cross one arm in front of the chest and one across the face. This can help protect you from injury if the kicker fires the ball directly at the wall.
The role of the goalkeeper in creating the wall
The goalkeeper is not part of the wall, but they play an essential role in where the wall stands and how effective it is. The goalkeeper sets the anchor and positions the entire wall. They tell the anchor whether to move the wall left or right and how many steps to take in each direction.
The goalkeeper yells “hold” when the anchor finds the correct position. They may also clasp their hands above their head to signal the wall is in the correct place.
The goalkeeper must take several actions quickly and effectively to create and position the wall. Those actions include the following.
- Set the anchor and wall quickly, then move to where they can see the ball
- Position themselves to block a straight-on shot or slightly more toward the far post. The wall protects the near side
- Center their balance and weight to react, whether the ball goes to the near or far side of the goal
The role of the anchor
The anchor is one of the most critical players in the wall. They must listen to instructions from the goalie and communicate them to other players in the wall quickly. The anchor may face the goalkeeper to hear instructions more clearly.
The role of other players in the wall
The other players in the wall should know their place before the kicker plays the ball.
Typically the wall is arranged from the tallest player to the shortest. These players should get into place quickly and listen to instructions from the anchor. They must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to prevent gaps.
Players in the wall have more responsibilities than standing side-by-side. The following are a few additional roles they need to fulfill.
- Look for cues given by the attacking team and assess how the shooter approaches the ball. Are they possibly looking to pass?
- Determine if they should jump or remain in position for a low shot.
Defending different types of free kicks
There are varying types of free kicks in soccer because they can take place from different places on the field.
Defending wide free kicks is different from defending central free kicks. The following are numerous types of free kicks and how to defend them.
Defending wide free kicks
Many teams use only a two-person wall for defending wide free kicks, but that depends on how wide the free kick is.
A general rule is that the wider the free kick (the farther it is from the goal); the fewer players are necessary for the wall.
For a wide free kick, the wall stands to stop a straight shot at the near post. Four to six additional markers stand in a defensive line to cover the other side of the goal. The players in this line must not stand too deep, as that can invite pressure from the attacking team.
One player stands between the defensive line and the wall, and one or two more players stand in position to make a counterattack.
Defending central free kicks
Central free kicks require a larger wall to help block shots on goal. A four-person wall is common for central free kicks, with one additional defender to charge the ball once touched. Another defender stands to the other side of the wall to cover.
Additional defenders mark offensive players, and one more player stands ready for a counterattack.
When practicing, coaches should rotate players through the wall and other positions, so that every payer knows how to defend all areas. This helps ensure the team is not caught by surprise when certain players are off the field.
Defending direct and indirect free kicks
There is not much difference between defending direct free kicks versus indirect free kicks. An indirect kick requires that another player on either team, besides the kicker, touch the ball before scoring a goal.
Teams often use a charging player in or beside the wall to defend an indirect free kick. This person closes in on the ball as soon as the kicker touches it.
A referee signals an indirect free kick by holding one arm in the air, but they do not use a physical signal for a direct free kick. Understanding the signal for an indirect free kick helps the defense choose their charging player and get into position faster.
Different teams have varying methods for defending free kicks. Strategies may also vary against different teams, as some may have stronger shooters than others.
The key points to keep in mind when defending free kicks are:
- to listen to the goalie
- get into position quickly
- secure any open spaces in the wall
- be ready for what happens next.
Free kicks can turn into goals, but they can also turn into swift and efficient counterattacks for the defense.