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The Free Kick and Penalty

"Play Football with Pele"

8 - The Free Kick and Penalty


As with the other tactics, the free kick and penalty need methodical and constant training, perhaps even more than the rest if we take into consideration the fact that a penalty kick is often the crucial shot which decides a game. A free kick, whether direct or indirect, is taken in front of the penalty area as often as it is taken from the left or right side, with or without the defensive wall. As you are kicking a stationary ball, the amount of improvisation is lessened.

With a penalty kick it is just you against the goalkeeper and you stand every chance of success. You are not marked and no-one is allowed to tackle you, so all your attention can be concentrated on the shot. More than ever before, I felt that climax of expectation when I was hoping to score my thousandth goal from a penalty when we were playing at Maracana. Even with all my experience, I must admit that I didn’t find it easy. To have confidence in yourself is absolutely essential. This self-confidence can only be acquired by training and, as a result, knowing exactly what you are going to do. So a successful free kick near the opponents’ goal, whether it is direct or indirect, depends on training and more training. I’d like to tell you something that I have learned.

Taking a free kick needs a certain cunning. If, for example, the free kick is taken on the left-hand side of the box, it is better to take it with your right foot, and vice versa. Just before kicking the ball, have a careful look at the position of the goalkeeper and the wall. Check if there are any ‘holes’ in the wall, or whether perhaps one of the players in the wall is shorter than the others, thus enabling you to send the ball over his head, etc. If there is a wind, check in which direction it is blowing. To ascertain the direction of the wind, just look to see which way any flags or banners are blowing. You should also know if the referee is going to blow his whistle before you take your free kick, or whether, as in Europe, he merely waves you on with his arm. If the latter is the case, you can take the kick quickly, before the goalkeeper has really had time to position himself properly.

Take into account the distance and position of the wall, the height of the players in the wall and the height of the net (2-44 meters). Also watch for how difficult the angle will be if you decide to take a free kick straight over the top of the wall and make sure it doesn’t go over the crossbar as well. There is not much space for the ball to travel over the wall, through the defenders, past the goalkeeper and into the net. A curving shot is preferable because even though it hasn’t so much force, it has more of a chance of getting round the defense. You have already learned how to do a curving shot in the chapter on kicking. You should practice curving shots so you can be calm and almost sure of a successful free kick.

You need to train even more for an indirect free kick because it involves at least one other player. You should rehearse various types of indirect free kicks with your team-mates, so you all know exactly what part you have to play in the action. Depending on what you have rehearsed and, of course, on the position of the defending players, you can use two, three, or more team-mates for an indirect free kick. Your team’s success with indirect free kicks depends on how much time you devote to practicing various tactics together.

Pele - The Free Kick and Penalty - Learn To Play Soccer - Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Pele – Taking Free Kicks and Penalties – Learn To Play Soccer

Now I’d like to tell you something about taking a penalty kick. The player who takes the penalty has all the advantages. The goalkeeper is not allowed to move his feet until the ball has been kicked; there are only eleven meters between the penalty spot and the goal; the shot is a direct one and the opponents must be 9.15 meters away from the ball. All these advantages put the goalkeeper in the position of a victim with scarcely any defense. This does not mean that you will definitely score. To increase your chances of scoring, you should observe the following basic rules:

  1. Make sure the ball is placed right on the penalty spot. Any hole or little obstacle, sometimes made by the goalkeeper, can cause the ball to go off course.
  2. Leave the ball on the spot and concentrate on what you are going to do. Don’t listen to any of the defenders’ talk, or pay any attention to their movements, which could distract you. Forget everyone and everything except the penalty kick.
  3. Run purposefully at the ball. By now you should have already decided which corner of the net you are going to aim at.
  4. Your shot shouId be a decisive, ‘clean’ one. Don’t change your mind about the direction of the ball at this stage. Take no notice of the movements of the goalkeeper’s arms or body and ignore any shout from a defender. These are their ways of trying to distract you.
  5. You must know your target, which is the area directly inside each post. The goalkeeper will be in the middle, ready to cover about 4 meters. That leaves about 1.5 meters on either side. The goalkeeper cannot defend these spaces. You only have to place the ball correctly in this zone and the goal is yours.

This isn’t really as easy as it seems. It all depends on the confidence you have gained from training. Don’t forget that a miss (if it goes outside the net, or is saved) is the penalty taker’s fault! When you practice your free kicks from various angles in front of the area and your penalty kicks you are increasing your team’s chances of victory.