There are two types of free kick in football, direct and indirect.
A direct free kick means that a shot on goal can be taken and, if it goes in, then it will be awarded. An indirect free kick means that somebody else has to touch it first before the goal can be awarded.
Of course, many indirect free kicks are not in goal threatening positions, but that does not mean that there is not a skill in taking them. With the right practitioner in charge of them an indirect free-kick can be both a way of clearing danger, or creating a goal-scoring opportunity.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s INCREDIBLE INDIRECT Free-Kick goal against Aston Villa from the stands. 🔥🔥
7 men in the wall and he still scored. 😱
— The CR7 Timeline. (@TimelineCR7) May 15, 2020
When is an indirect free kick awarded?
The most obvious example of an indirect free-kick offence is if an opposition player is adjudged to have been offside.
They can also be given if a referee decides that a player has committed an infringement of some of the technical aspects of the game, such as if somebody plays in a dangerous manner, although what this means can be open to interpretation.
A player delaying a restart is also an indirect free-kick, and they can also be given in the case of dissent, including the use of foul or abusive language, another grey area.
Goalkeepers can also concede indirect free-kicks by picking up a ball that has been deliberately passed back to them, or by holding on to the ball for more than six seconds.
In practice, this rule is frequently abused, and it is rare for a goalkeeper to be penalised for it unless their time wasting is blatant.
The referee will signal that an indirect free-kick has been awarded by raising their arm in the air.
When a free-kick is awarded, the opposition are expected to stand at least ten yards away from the ball, and players can be booked for infringement (again something that rarely happens in practice).
Indirect free-kicks from defence
When an indirect free-kick is awarded to a defending side, the first pre-requisite is that the ball should be cleared away from the danger area, and the second that it should not be passed straight back to the opponents or kicked directly out of play.
Before the back-pass rule was introduced, it was not uncommon for the ball to be played straight back to the goalkeeper, and this is still often the first choice in terms of destination, especially if a team likes to play out from the back.
Modern goalkeepers are much more adept with their feet than their predecessors, so there is less risk attached to this tactic than once might have been the case.
Teams that like to play the long ball game – where the midfield is often by-passed, like to play free-kicks forward towards central strikers who will try and win the ball in the air, and knock it down for players bursting forward looking for any scraps.
Another common tactic is to play indirect free-kicks into the space that opposing full-backs may leave behind them, although this does rely on forward players being primed to attack those areas as the ball is played forward.
As to whether a free-kick should be played in high or low, most teams will opt for the aerial route because they can send their tallest players forward into the box. The problem with this is that the defenders will use their tallest players to mark them in turn, so the free-kick either has to be very accurate or an attacker has to lose their man if this is to succeed.
Alternatively the ball can be played low across the area, and this may work if there is an element of surprise to it. However, such balls are usually easy to defend.
Indirect free-kicks on the edge of the area
It is not uncommon to see an indirect free-kick awarded on the edge of the opponent’s penalty area. And, in such cases, it is not uncommon for teams to regard it as a goalscoring opportunity, with one player touching it to another who will strike the ball.
Why this approach usually fails is the time taken. By the time that the second player is ready to shoot, the opposition wall (which is often not the requisite ten yards away in the first place) will have broken and be right in the face of the shooter.
To overcome this subterfuge is often required.
For example, in 1970 Coventry City scored an iconic goal against Everton which involved one player wedging the ball between his feet and then flicking the ball up donkey style, for a team-mate to meet it on the volley and lash it past the keeper.
FIFA, though, soon banned it, because they ruled that the ball had not moved its full circumference before the second touch.
Others have deliberately created confusion by shielding the ball from the opposition, so they cannot tell who has touched the ball first, and who is responsible for the strike at goal.
More recently, the Dutch found a last minute equaliser in their World Cup quarter-final with Argentina thanks to some clever thinking. Facing a free-kick on the edge of their area, the Argentine wall jumped up, only for the Dutch to play the ball underneath it for striker Wout Weghorst to collect the ball, turn and shoot the ball into the net.
And, although it is not a goal if a player shoots directly into the net, should it be touched by somebody from either side first, that makes it legitimate.
One tactic sometimes used, therefore, it is to shoot at goal directly from an indirect free-kick in the hope that it takes a deflection on the way. There is a good percentage that this will succeed, because defenders and goalkeepers are hard-wired to try and block shots, and they will have little or no time to consider first if it is direct.
Nowadays, all top teams have dead ball coaches who will work for hours coming up with routines and drills which can be employed in match day situations. It means that even the simplest indirect free-kick is likely to have been practised time and again on the training ground.