What Is a Set Piece Play? A Breakdown for 2022 FIFA World Cup

What Is a Set Piece Play? A Breakdown for 2022 FIFA World Cup originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If you’ve ever seen Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo lace up their cleats, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them involved in a set piece.

Messi and Ronaldo are among the best set piece specialists the sport has ever seen, but since the game has multiple plays that count as a set piece, it can get confusing to sort it all out.

Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about what a set piece is in soccer:

What is a set piece in soccer?

A set piece in soccer refers to a type of offensive play that occurs during a stoppage or a dead ball. The play is usually meant to advance the ball forward and can often result in a goal since players are situated in positions where they have a better chance of scoring.

What are the types of set pieces in soccer?

The types of set pieces in soccer include free kicks, corner kicks, penalty kicks and throw-ins.

What is a free kick in soccer?

A free kick in soccer comes after a foul occurs outside of the penalty box. The team on offense has a designated free-kick taker who either lobs in a cross to their teammates or attempts a direct shot at goal, depending on the distance (usually in the final third of the field, which is the term for the area 20 to 30 yards around the penalty box).

The defensive team lines up a specific amount of players (depending on the angle) to form a wall in front of the taker, which makes it harder to shoot directly. The remaining defenders guard the offensive players who are not taking the free kick.

Here’s an example of Ronaldo scoring a free kick against Spain during group play of the 2018 FIFA World Cup:

What is a corner kick in soccer?

When the ball goes out of bounds over the goal line and was last touched by the defending team, the offensive team is given a corner kick. The kick is delivered from the right or left corner of the field, depending on which side the ball went out of.

The corner-kick taker sends in a cross to their teammates for a chance to header in the goal while the defenders are trying to header it out of their penalty box.

In some instances when a game is really close and there’s a corner kick in the final minutes, the goalkeeper may come up to help out their teammates. Here’s an example of when Liverpool’s No. 1 Alisson scored the game-winning header against West Brom in 2021 on what would be the very last play of the game:

What is a penalty kick in soccer?

A penalty kick in soccer comes when a player is fouled inside of the penalty box, or if there was a hand-ball committed by the defender. The defender may or may not be given a yellow or red card depending on the severity of their infringement.

Unlike a free kick, a penalty kick is a one-on-one situation between the goalkeeper and penalty-kick taker. The ball is placed on the white circle situated 12 yards away from the goal line. When the referee blows the whistle, the penalty-kick taker runs up to the ball to try to score past the goalie.

If the player scores, they get to celebrate and play restarts from the usual midway line. If the player misses, play resumes from that moment depending on if the goalie saved it and kept possession or if the ball went out of bounds, whether by hitting the post/crossbar or if the player shot the ball out of bounds.

Here’s an example of when Neymar scored a penalty in 2016 to give Brazil its first ever Olympic gold medal:

What is a throw-in in soccer?

When the ball goes out of bounds along the touch line – the long lines on each side of the field, similar to a sideline in basketball – the team that did not touch the ball last attempts a throw-in from the spot where the ball went out of play.

The player throwing the ball in must do so with the ball over their head and can either move the ball forward or backward, depending on who is open.

Which set piece specialists should I watch for in the 2022 FIFA World Cup?

Keep an eye on these likely World Cup-bound players if a set piece opportunity arises:

  • Lionel Messi, Argentina

  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

  • Neymar Jr., Brazil

  • Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium

  • Trent Alexander-Arnold, England

  • Luka Modrić, Croatia