What is a Free Kick Wall in Soccer?

The Great Wall of China.

Hadrians Wall.

Trump’s Wall.

There’s lots of walls that are a pretty big deal across the globe.

But ask any soccer fan and they will tell you the only one that matters is the free-kick wall.

But what is it?

First, let’s go over the rules.

Free-kick rules

A free-kick is when a soccer game is stopped to penalise a foul on a soccer player. The referee – more on him/her later – blows his whistle, stops the passage of play and then awards a free-kick to the team of the fouled player. 

The soccer ball is placed on or very near to the spot where the infraction took place on the pitch. And if within shooting range of the goal, the team will normally have a nominated player who specialises in what are called ‘dead ball situations,’ which are free-kicks and corner kicks.

If it is within range, then the defending team need to organise – and quickly. Once the referee’s whistle blows again, the team taking the kick can have their shot – or they can cross it into the box for their attackers to go for.

So it is normally the goalkeeper who organises the construction of the free-kick wall. And he/she will take three, four or five players and stand them together in a line. It is up to the goalkeeper to position this wall of men in such a way that it makes it difficult to shoot but crucially, doesn’t block their view of the ball. When a goalkeeper can’t see the ball, it robs them of a vital second of trajectory – and when the ball is travelling at such a speed – that is the equivalent of starting a second behind Usain Bolt in a footrace.

How fast can the ball travel? 

According to some reports, the soccer ball can reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. So not being able to see the first flight of the soccer ball means the goalkeeper might as well be blindfolded. So when watching a soccer game, look out for the goalkeeper barking orders at his wall of defenders. The outcome of the match could depend on it.

Especially when the person standing over the soccer ball is somewhat of a specialist.

Also read: What is a CDM in soccer?

I have certain skills…

The first person that comes to mind when talking of free-kicks is the one, the only, David Beckham. The Englishman who produced the soccer boom in the MLS, the footballer fashionista and icon around the world underpinned his social status by being a god when it came to passing and free-kicks. It was known Beckham could the ball on a coin on the pitch from half a pitch away. His foot was a wand and could zap the soccer ball wherever he wished. And when it came to free-kicks, his highlights reel is special indeed.

David Beckham scored 65 free-kicks in his professional career, putting him in fifth spot in the all-time standings. Second in that list? The great Pele. First? A Brazilian who spent the majority of his career in France with Lyon. 

Juninho Pernambucano.

Juninho was noting short of a phenomenon when it came to dead-ball situations. The Brazilian was capable of swerving the ball like no other and his technique meant that the speed combined with the extreme direction made life difficult for even the best goalkeepers to contend with.

And it is these specialists that make the construction of the free-kick wall even more critical.

But sometimes, the free-kick is just too good.

Unstoppable free-kick

The best example of this comes from the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo. His free-kick versus Portsmouth while in his first spell at Manchester United was so well placed that the goalkeeper attempting to stop it – David James – simply threw his hands in the air, knowing he couldn’t deal with it.

When a shot is so precise that it ends up in the very top corner – it is described as a ‘postage stamp’ shot, meaning the tiny pocket between post and bar of the goal that is pretty much unsavable for a goalkeeper.

And Ronaldo for this free-kick, used a different technique to strike the ball, compared to most.

When hit correctly, it gives a dip on the ball that easily takes it over the free-kick wall. That is the most difficult thing for a free-kick taker – getting the soccer ball up and over the wall – but dipping it just in time to hit the goal instead of sailing over the bar. 

And when Ronaldo struck this free-kick, he hit it with the ‘knuckle’ bone on the front of his foot. You know the one, just above your big toe, on your metatarsal. 

The free-kick zipped, dipped and flew into the net, leaving most who saw it flabbergasted. It was the goal that really announced Ronaldo’s genius to the world.

And there was nothing that the free-kick wall could do about it.

I hear you, why not just put the tallest people in the wall, making the wall unpassable?

Because there are specialists who can bend it, dip it and perform minor miracles in physics.

Case in point – perhaps one of the most famous free-kicks ever taken – and showing the sometimes futile nature of the wall, was from a certain Roberto Carlos.

Also read: Soccer Players Who Started Playing Late

THAT free-kick

Another Brazilian of note when it comes to dead ball situations, Roberto Carlos had a reputation for absolute rockets. His thighs were bigger than most people’s torso’s, so the defender could generate a ridiculous amount of power.

And so it proved, in the warmup tournament for World Cup France 1998. Le Tournoi.

The match was France versus Brazil – a precursor to the actual World Cup Final. A free-kick, about thirty yards from goal. Roberto Carlos took the ball, placed it on the turf and began pacing backwards. 

There didn’t look to be much danger. The set-piece was very far from goal, so the wall constructed by French goalkeeper Fabian Barthez wasn’t too concerned, nor was it high in number.

Cue magic from the boot of Roberto Carlos.

It has to be seen to be believed. Look it up on YouTube when you get a chance. There is a certain camera angle that shows just how much swerve was on the ball. It veers so wide that it looks like it may go out for a throw in. And then the ball whips back inside the post, clipping it on the way. It left Barthez slack-jawed in admiration. It is still probably the most wicked curve on a soccer ball that has been seen.

And the free-kick wall would have been useless even if the entire team had lined up.

Free-kick failures

Because some free-kicks are just too good. For the best goalkeepers, some are unsavable.

But some free-kicks can be avoided entirely.

The free-kick wall is designed to block any attempt on goal – but occasionally, the free-kick taker gets a little cheeky. And they have been known to deliver their efforts UNDER the free-kick wall, when the members of the wall jump up as they expect to try and deflect a shot that is aiming high. Instead, a drilled shot is fired in low, using the gap created by the airborne defenders.

And sometimes, you can be Thierry Henry.

The legendary striker once lined up a free-kick and as the goalkeeper was organising his wall, Henry asked the referee if he could take it, as he was tired of waiting for so long. 

There was no reason to delay the game any further, so he blew his whistle and Henry fired into the empty net. The referee awarded the goal and he was chased by the unorganised wall and a furious goalkeeper.

To surmise, a free-kick wall is important to stop most efforts from dead-ball situations.

But sometimes, some things are unstoppable. 

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