DOHA, Qatar — As Brazil star Neymar lined up a harmful free kick in his facet’s 2022 World Cup opener on Thursday, considered one of his Serbian opponents, Andrija Zivković, did one thing that the untrained eye, appeared curious. He lowered himself into the grass, turned his again on the ball and simply lay there, as if to go to sleep.

However he was not the primary and won’t be the final participant to lie all the way down to defend a free kick. The scheme has unfold throughout European soccer in recent times to counter the game’s dead-ball wizards. After many years of curling free kicks extra partitions, some began sneaking beneath a leaping wall. The defending groups due to this fact started to cleverly wall off this low street as properly.

The evolution of free kicks and partitions

This back-and-forth evolutionary cycle started many years in the past. Since 1913, defending gamers have to be no less than 10 meters from the purpose of any free kick. For the higher a part of a century, soccer groups of all types have lined up a number of gamers in a 10-yard “wall” – typically to cowl the close to facet of the purpose, whereas the goalkeeper covers the far facet.

Within the Nineteen Eighties, or thereabouts, free-kick takers began going up and over the wall – so defenders began leaping so as to add a number of toes to the peak of the wall. As soon as present leaping turned commonplace, some legends of the game concocted a brand new plan. Rivaldo went below the AC Milan wall for his first Champions League hat-trick purpose in 2000. Ronaldinho did it in 2006 against Wolfsburg. Lionel Messi has performed it thrice. Cristiano Ronaldo did it for Manchester United within the Premier League, and once more for Actual Madrid en path to a Champions League title.

The straightforward resolution can be for the wall to stay anchored. However going up and crossing the wall remained the popular route. Numerous curlers and divers have been blocked by a leaping wall – or might have been blocked by a wall that remained in place. For years, defending them has change into a guessing recreation, all the way down to an imperfect selection: to leap or to not leap.

The origins and historical past of the supine place

However over the previous decade, the seeds of an answer have been planted in Brazil. Ronaldinho introduced free-kicks below the wall in his native nation. A couple of years later, Ricardinho, a journeyman midfielder on mortgage at Figuerense, went semi-viral when he stood behind the wall after which fell to the bottom when Palmeiras playmaker Jorge Valdivia took purpose. 20 meters away. Valdivia tried to interrupt via the wall, however his teammates and viewers observed and acknowledged Ricardinho’s genius.

The tactic slowly took maintain in South America, and the pure forces of innovation refined it. In 2014, some defenders had been fully laid.

By 2017 it had migrated to Europe – albeit sparingly and in various varieties. Some gamers would kneel (and nonetheless do) fairly than lie down. (Going horizontal permits for fuller protection, however might depart a participant barely extra inclined to damage or barely slower to react to set play.)

In 2019, Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic slipped behind the wall as Luis Suarez tried to get below it:

Final season, the tactic had change into nearly common. Some defenders even dragged their teammates into place by the neck:

Qatar 2022, nonetheless, is the primary World Cup at which he’s omnipresent.

The unfold has largely banned free-kick targets below the wall prior to now. There’s, for now, no draw back to staying behind the wall – till a clever coach or participant designs set play to make the most of it.

Brazil striker #10 Neymar (L) shoots a free kick in the course of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G soccer match between Brazil and Serbia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on November 24, 2022 (Picture by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP) (Picture by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP through Getty Pictures)

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