In the professional soccer ranks, usually a free kick a specialist will step up and take the kick without trying to pull any tricks out of a hat. It’s simply an expert bending the soccer ball into the back of the net, whether that expert is Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Riquelme, Totti, Ronadlinho, Juninho Pernambucano, or Zidane. It’s one or two steps, and purely a duel between the free kick taker and the goalkeeper. With these free kick experts, usually the goalkeeper ends up hopelessly watching as the ball whizzes by him.
Take Messi’s free kick versus the United States in the Copa America. Did Brad Guzan really have a chance at saving this shot as it flew into the upper corner of the goal? I don’t think so.
Then there are the power shooters, like John Arne Riise of Liverpool or Roberto Carlos, both take a relatively longer run up to the soccer ball and rocket the ball into the net. Roberto Carlos is famous for his outside of the foot shots, tres dedos, which do have a ton of spin on the ball. The fact is, when you hit the ball with that much power, the ball is going to move. Cristiano Ronaldo has hits the ball with power like this, putting some funky spin on the ball, too, that confuses the goalkeeper.
With the power shot though, the goalie usually doesn’t have much of a chance if the ball is anywhere near the goal. With the rest of the team crashing the goal mouth in a coordinated fashion, seizing on any misplays by the keeper, it’s hard to not give up a goal.
But let’s look a bit closer at the free kick options, from tricks to some simpler plays:
Back Post Chip
This free kick is from the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, where the ball is chipped to the back post and then the player heads the ball across the goal mouth. Lloyd Sam gets the finish in this set piece masterclass from the Red Bulls.
Spin Out of the Wall
Here’s a clever free kick idea from Spain’s U20 team. Two players line up like they’re going to take a long range shot but instead one of the players chips the ball over the wall to a teammate who was in the wall and now spins to score. The player who scores is Real Madrid’s up and coming star Sergio Canales.
The pass to one player who stops it with the top of his foot and then moves out of the way so the kicker can strike it. The player is screening the ball but also enables the shooter to get a better angle around the wall by passes it a few yards. May pass the ball just a yard or two but to the side of the wall so the player can hit it dead on. This is often used for an indirect free kick, where another player has to touch the ball.
One or two players run over the ball as if they’re going to strike it, peeling off to the sides, as the chosen player then takes the shot. The keeper and the wall don’t know who’s going to end up taking the kick.
Two players shield the ball and one player runs through as if they’re going to strike the ball, the fourth player then ends up taking the kick. So two players screen the ball, one player runs through them as they peel off, and the fourth player strikes the ball.
Three players total are involved. One player, on the side, plays the ball to a player a few yards away, who stops the ball with the top of their foot (sole of their foot), and then the player in the center ends up striking the ball. The keeper doesn’t know if the first player is going to hit it or the player in the center.
Three pronged approach. Players on the left, right and then in the center. The keeper has a hard time picking a side to lean to or anticipate diving to when he doesn’t know who’s going to take it. Picture Beckham, Giggs, and Rooney standing around the ball, one on the left, one on the right and then one at the top of the ball. Not a pleasant site for a keeper to see.
Top Ten Free Kicks of All Time
One player stands in front of the ball and the player ready to take the free kick runs up and strikes the ball as the other player spins away. The goalkeeper won’t see the ball until the last second. Hopefully when it’s too late to reach the ball.
The quick free kick before the keeper and the wall have are set. Make sure the referee hasn’t said they’re going to blow their whistle before the kick can be taken.
This is where two players stand in front of the ball so the keeper can’t see who’s taking the free kick or where the ball is going until the last minute.
Two players line up at the ball and the keeper or the wall doesn’t know who will take the kick or how the ball will bend. Usually two players stand in front of the ball, one on the left side, ready to take the ball with their right foot. And then the other player on the right side, ready to take the kick with their left foot.
The hard kick or rocket shot to force the goalie to make a save and the rest of the team charges the goal mouth looking for the keeper to drop the ball. Purely want to make sure the shot is on target.
The pass to another player at the top of the box. Two players on the ball, one to the side, and one directly behind the ball, and then another player sort of trailing the play. This player sneaks up about ten or so yards away even with the free kick taker, say at the top of the box, just before the kick is taken. Player on the side runs up as if they’re going to shoot, but plays a square ball to the trailing player who now has a clear shot at goal away from the wall.
Watch Andrea Pirlo whip in a few free kicks.
Chip Far Post
A read herring is when something is used to get people off track, or pull their attention to something else. This is like the chip far post. The chip to the far post when everyone thinks you’re going to strike the ball on goal directly, but instead you send the ball in like a cross. Even trying to head the ball across the goal mouth after the chip is a good idea, pulls the keeper to the far post and leaves the front of the goal exposed to your on rushing team.
Over the Wall Chip
The chip over the wall to a player (your teammate) who’s standing in the wall) – this player spins and strikes the ball. There must be enough space behind the wall though for this to work. Usually helps to overload the far post with players to drag as many players to that zone as possible – and disguise the play.
A player bends down as if they’re going to tie their shoe. Another player comes over to survey the scene so to speak, standing right next to the player tying their shoe. Another player stays behind the ball ready to shoot – but looking down at the person tying their shoe, not looking like they’re going to shoot. Player who’s tying their shoe then pokes the ball through the player’s legs who’s come over to help, the player at the top of the ball strikes the ball on goal – hopefully surprising the other team. The ball played through the legs gives the shooter more of an opening as it’s now a way from the wall.
Bricks in the Wall
This is where you post two or three players at the edge of the wall, to shield the ball from the keeper and where the ball is going. It can become a battle though, as the other team will fight to keep your players out of the wall. Teammates in the wall are also good targets. If you can pick out the head a teammate they can duck when you take the kick. Watch how Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle stand at the edge of the wall and move when Beckham steps up to strike the ball.
Across the Top
If the free kick is out wide, where you’d normally cross the ball like a corner, instead of swinging in the cross, have one player run over the ball and the other play the ball along the top of the box to a player who is waiting to strike the ball home from the top of the box.
From his days with Tottenham Hotspurs: Gareth Bale practices free-kicks at the Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre.