A corner kick is a dangerous situation for the defending team. It allows the opposition a close-range shot on goal with players on the attack and no offside until the ball is in play.
However, a team that knows how to defend corners correctly won’t feel they’re in a dangerous situation every time a corner kick is taken. The following guide will help you and your team perfect corner kick defending, so you can prevent goals and win more games.
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Team Defense Strategy for Corners
A team must work as a unit to prevent corner kicks from turning into goals. Two major strategies are used from pee-wee soccer to the pros: man-to-man marking and zone defense.
This defensive strategy involves requires each player to focus on a player from the opposite team. Their job is to deny the attacker space and access to the ball, which means remaining concentrated on the player and the ball at all times.
The attackers will approach the goal from the edges of the penalty area, so man markers will have to approach at the same time. The goal is to have a defender stuck to each attacker like glue.
The attacking team may put a player on the goalkeeper. In this case, the keeper is generally responsible for defending against that player, unless he is not comfortable doing so.
A defender must mark an attacker of similar stature and speed. It is difficult for a short defender to mark a 6’4″ attacker looking for a header on goal.
Zonal defense strategy involves giving each defender an area to cover. Their job is to clear the ball if it enters their zone.
This strategy places one player on each post to cover for the keeper and keep shots off the line.
Three of the team’s best headers should stand on the six-yard line. Two will be in line with the posts, and the third will remain in the center. The center player should be the team’s best header.
Three more players should be between the six- and 18-yard lines in a similar arrangement to those on the six-yard line.
Another player will be in front of the kicker to prevent a “short corner” kick and to block a kick if possible. The pressure applied can help disrupt an attacking team’s corner kick strategy.
One more player will stand inside the six-yard box a few yards from the goal line and outside the near post. This is to defend against “flick-ons.” Finally, one of the team’s fastest players should be near the halfway line, ready to begin the counterattack when the ball is cleared.
The goalie remains in the center of the goal, constantly watching the ball and the penalty area.
Many successful teams use a combination of man-to-man marking and zonal defense to defend against corner kicks.
A 2018 analysis of 600 corner kicks across 64 FIFA World Cup games showed that teams using a zonal marking strategy gave up more goals than those using a mixed man and zonal marketing strategy.
A successful combination strategy, as offered by Soccer Source Coaching, is to place two players in the zone in front of the near post. Another player is farther out, just past the six-yard line but still defending the near post.
A third player should remain near the halfway line and one midway between the halfway line and the goal line. These zonal defenders are ready to start an attack when the ball is cleared.
The remaining players on the field are left to man-mark. Match each defender with an attacker of similar size, speed, and skill level. Each defender should place himself between the attacker and the goal, in a “goal side” position.
The Goalkeeper’s Job
Goalkeeper Positioning for Corners
It is common knowledge the goalkeeper’s job is to keep the ball out of the goal. In fact, a heroic save by the keeper is often what results in a corner kick.
A corner kick puts the keeper in another stressful situation. However, a keeper who knows how to position themselves correctly will enter every corner kick situation with confidence.
Dave Clarke, a former head coach and editor of Soccer Coach Weekly, suggests the goalkeeper stands where they can see as much of the penalty area as possible. The keeper needs to see the ball while the corner kick is taken.
The keeper should stand slightly forward of the goal line toward the middle of the goal. The keeper’s body is angled toward the side of the field where the corner kick is taking place.
Leading and Organizing
A corner kick is an opportunity for the goalkeeper to organize the defense and make major decisions.
The goalie is the only player who sees everything happening in front of them. They can tell defenders to adjust positioning when they see blank spots in the zone or an unmarked player.
The goalie needs to be confident in the decisions they make to collect the ball. It’s essential to call loudly to keep attackers and defenders off the ball. A keeper should always raise one knee to protect themselves while jumping to catch or punch a ball.
Essential Tips for Defenders
All defenders need to understand their roles and how they collectively prevent goals. Corner kick defense strategies fall apart if just one defensive player doesn’t pull their weight.
Defenders need to communicate whether man-marking or in a zonal defense. A ball may land in the middle of two zones, and communication by the nearest player is essential to letting the opposition take advantage. Many of the easiest attempts on goal are due to defender miscommunication.
Position Yourself Correctly
Positioning yourself correctly means always staying within arms reach of the attacker and keeping your body between the attacker and the goal. Stand at an angle, so you can always see the ball and the person you need to be marking.
Prepare to Attack
Defending a corner kick means there’s a chance you’ll quickly convert from defense to offense. Players should know to clear the ball far and wide when they gain control. This can lead to a rapid and successful counterattack.
Know Your Role
Every player should understand their role in defending corner kicks before going on the field. He should not be afraid to ask questions during practice to fully understand what needs to be done.
Tips for Coaches
Coaches play an integral role in defending corner kicks. They’re the ones who understand the strategy and must ensure that every player knows his role.
The following are a few tips for coaches as offered by Soccer Source Coaching:
- Consider using a combination of man-marking and zonal strategies. This has been described by FIFA as the most effective way to approach corner kick defense.
- Remind the goalie to be confident, loud, and always in position.
- Ensure all players know how to defend one-on-one and are matched with attackers of similar size and speed.
- Have the defense move out the moment the ball is put into play. This moves threats away from the goal and can put offensive players in the offsides position.
- Choose a clear corner kick strategy before each game. This strategy may vary from game to game depending on the size and skill level of the players on the opposing side.
- Practice, practice, practice until you’re sure every player knows his role.
Roughly 12 percent of corner kicks produce a shot on goal at the professional level. This number is much higher at lower levels of play because defensive strategies are not as airtight.
Corner kicks, at any level, don’t have to turn into goals. Implement the tips and strategies above to help your team defend corner kicks and even turn corner kicks into offensive attacks.
Defending corner kicks is just one part of a team’s overall defensive strategy. Read our in-depth guide to learn more about defensive strategies in soccer.
And to learn how your team can take advantage when they have a corner kick, see our guide on how to take a corner kick.