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How Ronaldinho’s free kicks helped spark soccer’s latest trend

While watching matches within the Champions League and Europe’s prime leagues not too long ago, you could effectively have observed one thing just a little unusual happening as groups put together to defend a free kick on the sting of their field.

Perhaps, when you have been watching Arsenal‘s 2-1 defeat to Everton within the Premier League final month for instance, you’ll have noticed Ainsley Maitland-Niles actually mendacity down behind the defensive wall in an effort to block any try at a cheeky low shot from Gylfi Sigurdsson. He is the latest participant to place their physique on the road in an effort to thwart a possible trick shot as their teammates within the wall bounce when the lifeless ball is hit.

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The defensive tactic has steadily gained acceptance in Europe since 2018, when Inter Milan midfielder Marcelo Brozovic went viral by mendacity inclined in entrance of a worldwide viewers throughout a 2018-19 Champions League group-stage match towards Barcelona. Spotting that Luis Suarez was aiming to sneak the set piece beneath the wall, Brozovic flung himself to the floor to form a makeshift emergency barrier — a lot to the amusement of a watching Lionel Messi.

Brozovic’s unorthodox block proved to achieve success as Suarez’s low shot ricocheted off his inclined physique and harmlessly vast of the goal. In truth, the manoeuvre proved so efficient that many different gamers have sought to duplicate it since — however the place did the intelligent, if pretty hazardous ploy start?

The observe of forming an additional barricade first turned commonplace on the elite degree in Brazil, the place determined defenders needed to improvise a option to counteract set-piece specialists like Ronaldinho, who had a penchant for hitting free kicks beneath the wall to catch goalkeepers off guard. Ronaldinho loved loads of success together with his decoyed daisy cutters, including this impudent effort in the 2006-07 Champions League towards Werder Bremen.

The Brazil nice additionally loved related outcomes upon returning to his homeland with Flamengo, scoring towards Santos within the 2011 Brazilian Championship — in an exciting 5-4 win over a crew that includes rising famous person Neymar — with another free kick clipped underneath the five men in the wall as they leapt in unison.

Ex-Clube Parana midfielder Lucio Flavio was one other Brazilian set-piece virtuoso who rapidly gained a fame for selecting to go beneath, relatively than over the wall at dead-ball conditions. After getting sensible to the ruse, defenders started attempting to impede Flavio by laying a person down behind the remainder of the wall. Unfortunately, as demonstrated throughout a 2014 cup tie towards Ponte Preta, once Flavio spotted the counter-measure he simply reverted to bending unstoppable shots over the wall and into the highest nook.

By this level, the observe was a well-recognized sight amongst Brazilian defences, and it might all be traced again to a fateful Campeonato Serie B match in 2013 when Figueirense hosted Palmeiras. As Palmeiras free kick specialist Jorge Valdivia was busy sizing up a harmful set piece on the sting of the world, everyone else was wanting on quizzically as Figueirense midfielder Ricardinho took it upon himself to bolster the five-man wall by lying down behind it.

“I tend to study a lot before matches and I saw that before the game against Palmeiras, Valdivia tried to make the ball go under the wall.” Ricardinho advised ESPN. “I decided during the game and I didn’t tell anyone. I thought the odds that Valdivia would try to pull it off were high. I had seen someone take a knee before, but never lie down.”

When the free kick was given by the referee, Ricardinho advised teammate Thiego (a defender who later died in the 2016 Chapecoense plane crash) to leap as excessive as he might, protected within the information that the hole beneath him can be lined.

In the occasion, Ricardinho’s brave effort was in useless as Valdivia opted for the standard set piece that was blocked by the wall. Palmerias nonetheless gained 3-2 with, sarcastically, Valdivia scoring the successful purpose. Regardless, Ricardinho returned to the locker room at full-time to lavish reward for his actions, together with a phrase or two from his barely baffled coach, Adilson Batista.

“When he walked in, Adilson asked me, ‘Wow, why didn’t you say that to me beforehand?'” Ricardinho recalled. “Everyone went crazy, saying ‘Wow, Ricardinho, you did amazing!’ It was not that big of a deal at the time. But few years later, I saw an Instagram account of historical plays and it had over two million views!”

Watching on from the dugout, Adilson wasn’t fairly so enthused, however the former centre-back a minimum of appreciated the speculation behind his midfielder’s uncommon positioning as he had witnessed first-hand the low free kicks of Ronaldinho and Lucio Flavio.

“As a defender, I had already considered that — you either jump or stay out of the wall” he advised ESPN. “When I saw Lucio Flavio and Ronaldinho doing this, they performed a low shot under the second or third man because the normal thing would be for the defender to jump. Now you have to have another guy there [behind the wall] because we try to protect the goalkeeper. But lying down? There is no need to lie down. The idea was if the ball goes through the second man, there would be another one there.

“The one from Ronaldinho, it went beneath the second man. [The shot would be blocked] if the man is standing behind the wall or the man on the base would not bounce. If you place one leg in the best way, you cease the ball. You do not must lie down like that. If one man jumps, he might fall on prime of his teammate.”

For what it’s worth, Ricardinho insists that he had the whole thing planned out, even taking measures to ensure that he wouldn’t be accidentally trampled: “I used to be at a distance [from the wall] to keep away from the chance of being stepped on by somebody from the wall. The solely downside is the hand, as a result of it is advisable to conceal it effectively within the physique. In that recreation, my hand was barely up and was in danger.

Adilson believes that his participant was not appearing fully significantly: “It was more one of Ricardinho’s jokes than anything.” But, whether or not it was horseplay or not, an innovation was born and shortly others in Brazil and much past have been impressed to do the identical.


The transfer’s journey throughout the Atlantic may very well be charted through two extra Brazilians, who ply their commerce in Europe — Marcelo and Philippe Coutinho.

During a World Cup qualifier towards Argentina in November 2016, Real Madrid left-back Marcelo crouched behind the wall to defend a Messi free kick in anticipation of a fake-out try from the ahead. While not a full-on horizontal sleeper block, this might effectively be the primary instance of the idea making the leap from Brazilian home soccer to the broader worldwide scene.

Coutinho performed alongside Marcelo for Brazil that day, and he deployed the identical defence method simply three months later throughout Liverpool‘s Premier League recreation towards Tottenham, when he knelt behind his personal wall at Anfield, purposefully out of view from Christian Eriksen because the Spurs midfielder ready his strike. Whatever the route by which it entered Europe, the trend quickly swept throughout the continent and now you can see it deployed with growing regularity.

The method had truly reached UEFA competitions earlier than Brozovic’s effort achieved viral standing. Mata stooped on the bottom and peeked by the legs of his Manchester United teammates whereas going through a free kick throughout the 2017 Europa League ultimate. Notice that Mata’s future colleague Donny van de Beek can also be within the neighborhood.

Bayern Munich’s Kimmich, as one of the crucial extremely rated younger defenders in world soccer, superior the trigger in European soccer when he introduced again the complete “long border” whereas taking part in for Germany throughout a Nations League recreation towards Netherlands.

A graduate of the Manchester City academy, Maffeo was clearly drilled within the burgeoning artwork throughout his early life with the Premier League facet. However, Girona have been those to learn once they noticed their younger full-back try to bodily block a set piece throughout a Spanish second division recreation towards Extremadura.

The Serie A recreation between Roma and Inter finally completed goalless, partly as a consequence of Spinazzola’s floor-level fortitude. This might fairly probably be the primary sighting of the method in an Italian prime flight stadium.

The method’s journey proper throughout Europe is full. The Russian Premier League was lastly handled to its first behind-the-wall bolster earlier this yr when Aliyev took up the place throughout a recreation towards Zenit — and regarded remarkably relaxed in doing so.

Keen to show his mettle on the large stage, Sevilla midfielder Torres knew the eyes of the world have been on him when he went to floor to thwart a Bayern set piece throughout the UEFA Super Cup showpiece. Surprisingly, Bayern’s resident joker Thomas Muller would not look too impressed by the entire charade.

While going through Manchester United within the Carabao Cup, Brighton & Hove Albion’s French striker took his title actually as he hunkered down behind the remainder of his teammates within the wall to supply additional protection. Neal by title, kneel by nature…

Making his second Bundesliga debut for Bayern at Arminia Bielefeld, after re-joining them on mortgage from Juventus, Costa made the case that Brazilians nonetheless do it finest.

Having studied Barca’s set-piece tendencies, Merida volunteered to be human buttresses behind the wall whereas taking up the Catalan giants earlier this season. We would not advise utilizing his face-first method.

U.S. worldwide left-back Robinson has clearly taken it upon himself to develop into Fulham’s in-house under-wall specialist having been noticed adopting the place a number of occasions already this season. The younger defender crossed his arms and did high quality work as a human protect towards West Ham in November, having additionally completed likewise in video games towards West Brom and Newcastle previously few weeks.

Along with Maffeo, right here we current additional proof that the sleeper method is drilled into gamers coming by Man City’s academy. Diaz, additionally a City youth graduate, thought completely nothing of crouching behind the Milan wall throughout AC Milan’s Europa League recreation towards Celtic earlier this month,

While Cristiano Ronaldo leapt highest into the air as per ordinary, Cuadrado received down and did the soiled work as Juve have been tasked with conserving Torino’s set piece professional Ricardo Rodriguez at bay throughout the Turin derby.

Koke (Dec. 12, 2020)

Usually tenacious in virtually all circumstances, by no means has Atletico midfielder Koke minimize a extra nervous determine because the time he was deployed down behind the wall throughout the current Madrid derby. Alas, with the captain’s armband comes nice accountability.

Van de Beek will need to have been left questioning fairly why he bothered signing for Manchester United as he discovered himself scrabbling round on his haunches throughout a current outing towards Sheffield United.

Valencia’s Cheryshev regarded like he was merely having fun with a pleasant, informal mid-game lie down whereas awaiting a Barcelona set piece to be taken.

ESPN Brasil’s Antonio Strini and Vladimir Bianchini contributed to this report

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