WORLD CUP '94 : Defense in Soccer

Researched by EMILIO GARCIA-RUIZ / Los Angeles Times


Defensive play changed forever in the 1974 World Cup when Franz Beckenbauer revolutionized the sweeper position, using it as a point from which to launch attacks in leading Germany to the title. Since then, defensive formations have varied widely from the conservative to the daring. In the World Cup, the U.S. national team might use as many as five defenders in an attempt to keep games close.

The German Plan

The 1994 German team will defend using a sweeper, marking backs, and midfielders. The Germans will patiently build their attacks from the back. They will try to crowd their opponents in the midfield with everyone, including the attackers, helping out on defense. A. Sweeper: Can launch attacks, once ball has been won. B. Marking backs: Will play aggressively, man to man. When the opportunity presents itself, they can and will attack. C. Outside midfielders: Will drop down to play entire flanks, acting as outside backs. D. Central midfielder: Covers the most ground, initiating attacks when possible. However, he also has to fill in the gaps left by the offensive midfielders when they move up on offense. E. Offensive Midfielders: Will drop down to defense if needed.

Corner Kick

Most teams play a man-to-man defense against a corner kick, with the goalie making sure everyone is covered before the kick is taken, especially attackers racing into the box for a header.

Free Kick

Against a direct kick near its goal, a defense will set up a wall 10 yards from the ball, or closer if the referee is not paying attention, to block the shooter's angle. The goalkeeper is responsible for positioning the wall so it blocks a section of the goal. He then covers the other part.

A. WALL DEFENDERS: A wall is usually made up of four to six players, who stand tightly together and use their hands to protect vulnerable regions of the body.

B. CHARGING THE WALL: Often, an opposing player will try to sneak into the wall to give the shooter a path to the goal by ducking.


* Back pass--A pass made back to his own goalkeeper by a defensive player.

* Stopper--A defensive player who primarily covers the area in front of the goal. Often the last line of defense.

* Sweeper--A defender who has free reign to roam the field as he wishes, but is mostly found in defense.

* Wall--A tightly grouped line of defenders positioned between the ball and the goal on a direct kick.

* Dead ball--As in basketball and football, when play is stopped and the ball is not moving. All free kicks are supposed to be taken when the ball is stationary.

* Fifty-fifty ball--A loose ball that an attacking player and a defender have an equal chance to control.

* Clear--To kick or head the ball away from the goalmouth. A good clear is a ball passed to a teammate to start an attack; a bad clear merely gets the ball out of danger.

Jersey: The goalkeeper's jersey must always be a different color to distinguish him from the other players.


A defensive move that uses the feet to strip an opponent of the ball. Here are some of the basic soccer tackling techniques:

* A tackle should not be attempted if the opponent is out of range. This gives the opponent a chance to sidestep the tackler.

* The tackler should move in closer and patiently wait for the moment he could put all his weight behind winning the ball.

* In tackling from behind, the first contact must be with the ball and not an opponent's legs. Otherwise it could cause the defenders a free kick. The same can be said of tacklers challenging from the side.

* In trying to win a bouncing ball, a player cannot raise his foot with the cleats of his shoes threatening an opponent. He will be called for dangerous play. However, if that same player were to twist his foot to bring the ball down and away from his opponent, the chances of his being called for a foul decreases considerably.

Source: The World Book of Soccer; Striker; Soccer Laws Illustrated; Rules of the Game; World Book.

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