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FIFA World Cup 2018: Precision during set-pieces key to England’s success

England have relied a lot on set-pieces and they will once again be an integral part of their plans as the Three Lions take on Croatia in the FIFA World Cup 2018 semi-finals.

football Updated: Jul 08, 2018 21:41 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
FIFA World Cup 2018,England,England set pieces
England will face Croatia in the FIFA World Cup 2018 semi-finals in Russia.(REUTERS)

There is a bit of Sam Allardyce in the way England have won games at the World Cup this summer. Allardyce’s teams have usually been good in set-pieces and that is an area that the Three Lions have excelled in this summer in Russia.

But unlike the recently-sacked Everton manager who had been Gareth Southgate’s predecessor as England coach, the latter’s approach to set-pieces has been more complex than just putting his tall and strong players inside the box and hoping one of them would get at the end of the ball.

Of their 11 goals in this tournament, England have scored from three penalties, two of which have resulted from corner kicks. Four other goals have been finished off from corner kick deliveries. Another goal was the result of a well-executed free kick routine.

It is clear that Southgate has worked on this particular aspect after England’s struggled from set-pieces in the last three major tournaments.

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It is also likely to be crucial when England face Croatia in the semi-final.

England’s routine involves having three or four players stand together on the edge of the box before a corner. Kane and Harry Maguire are usual fixtures in these and both were involved on Saturday evening when the latter scored.

With Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli marked inside the box, Kane, Maguire, Raheem Sterling and John Stones lined up near the line demarcating the penalty box.

As the delivery came in, Stones took a few steps to his right to recover the ball in case it crossed the players in the middle. Both Henderson and Alli rushed forward and dragged their markers away from the ball. Sterling walked forward but had a defender marking him.

Then Kane ran forward and he was immediately surrounded by two Swedish defenders, with a third not far away.

His decoy run left Maguire with space behind him. As the Leicester City defender took his leap, Emil Forsberg, who was marking Sterling, made a last-ditch attempt at reaching the ball. His jump wasn’t enough and Maguire scored.

It was a routine executed to its finest details and in stark contrast to the team’s disheveled set-pieces two years back at the European Championships in France.

Kane had been in charge of taking the corners in that tournament, robbing England of their main target man to finish off chances inside the box.

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Southgate has been able to address and improve England’s set-piece issues and has been able to package it into one of the most lethal elements about his team.

Of the four teams remaining in the tournament, England arguably have the weakest team on paper. Their set-piece prowess, however, means that they can more than make up for their technical inferiority to other teams.

Luka Modric highlighted the same when speaking to reporters after Croatia scraped past Russia in the last quarterfinal of the tournament.

“We saw how good they are from dead ball situations,” he said. “We will have to focus more on defending set-pieces because we conceded towards the end of the game today from a set-piece and we have to improve that element of our game,” Modric remarked.

First Published: Jul 08, 2018 21:38 IST