Why Players Lie Down to Defend Free Kicks

DOHA, Qatar. Brazilian star Neymar scored a dangerous free kick against his team on Thursday. World Cup 2022 In the first match, one of his Serbian opponents, Andrija Zivkovic, did something that seemed curious to the untrained eye. He sank down on the grass, turned his back to the ball, and lay like that, as if falling asleep.

But he was neither the first nor the last player to get up prone defending a free kick. In recent years, this ploy has spread throughout European football to counter the dead ball wizards. After decades of free-kick curling above walls, some began to stealthily shoot under jump wall. So the defending teams began to deftly fence off this low route as well.

The evolution of free kicks and walls

This reciprocating evolutionary cycle began several decades ago. Since 1913, defensive players must stand at least 10 yards from the site of any free kick. For most of the century, football teams of all kinds lined up multiple players in a 10-yard “wall”—often to cover the near side of the goal while the goalkeeper covered the far side.

In the 1980s or so, free-kick takers started to climb up and jump over the wall, so defenders started jumping to increase the height of the wall by a couple of feet. As jumping became commonplace, some of the legends of the sport came up with a new plan. Rivaldo went under the wall of Milan for his first hat-trick in the Champions League 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 on the way to the Champions League title.

A simple solution would be to keep the wall grounded. But the preferred route remained up and over the wall. Countless curlers and dippers were blocked by the jumping wall – or could be blocked by the wall that remained in place. Over the years, their defense has become a guessing game of making the wrong choice: either jump or don’t jump.

Origin and history of lying

But in the past decade, the seeds of a solution were sown in Brazil. Ronaldinho brought home free kicks from under the wall. A couple of years later, Ricardinho, a journeyman midfielder on loan at Figuerense, retired. semi-viral when he stood behind the wall, then fell to the ground when Palmeiras playmaker Jorge Valdivia aimed from 20 yards. Valdivia tried to climb over the wall, but teammates and TV viewers noticed and recognized Ricardinho’s genius.

The tactic slowly caught on in South America, and the natural forces of innovation perfected it. By 2014, some defenders had fallen completely..

By 2017, it had migrated to Europe, albeit sparingly and in various forms. Some players got up (and still do) on their knees instead of lying down. (Horizontal movement provides fuller coverage, but may leave the player slightly more vulnerable to injury or slightly slower to respond to standard play.)

In 2019, Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic famously slipped over the wall when Luis Suarez tried to go under it:

By last season, tactics had become almost universal. Some defenders even dragged teammates by the neck:

Qatar 2022, however, is the first World Cup where it has a ubiquitous presence.

The spread has largely relegated free-kick goals to the past. At the moment, there is nothing wrong with lying behind the wall – as long as a savvy coach or player does not come up with a standard game to take advantage of it.

Brazil's number 10 striker Neymar, left, takes a free kick during the 2022 World Cup Group G football match in Qatar between Brazil and Serbia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, November 24, 2022.  (Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP) (Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Brazil #10 striker Neymar, left, takes a free kick during the 2022 World Cup Group G football match in Qatar between Brazil and Serbia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, November 24, 2022. (Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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