Why Do Football Players Lie Down Behind the Wall?

Football games are, without a shadow of a doubt, some of the most interesting sporting spectacles that fans get to enjoy.

So many fascinating things take place on the field which makes the game very enjoyable to watch.

From a tactical perspective, there are a lot of unique approaches that teams take in order to try and gain an advantage over their opponents.

One of these moves which has sparked a lot of curiosity in recent years is when a player lying down behind the free kick wall when their team is defending a set piece in a dangerous area.

The phenomenon has been sighted across many professional football leagues in the world, as clubs have picked up on the benefits of this approach and begun to employ them as part of their own defensive strategy.

And the action certainly makes sense.

Here’s why…

Football players crouch or lie down behind the wall as a measure of preventing the opposition’s set piece taker from striking the ball under the defensive wall and into the goal.

Because players in the free kick wall generally jump to try and block the aerial flight of the football, an attacker can have a clean strike at goal if they hit the ball along the ground. So, a player may station themselves behind the wall to ward off that offensive threat.

why football players lie down behind the wall - blocking shots struck along the ground

Let’s now examine this a little further.


Is it legal to lie behind the wall in football?

In the modern game’s current state, there isn’t any particular rule that prevents a footballer from lying down behind their team mates defensive wall when a free kick is being taken.

However, there are two provisions in the Laws of the Game that could be applied depending on the discretion of the referee officiating the match.

The first is a tripping offence.


Applicable provision #1 – tripping offence

Here’s what the football rule book has to say about this:

“A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player… trips or attempts to trip an opponent… in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force.”

Source – Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct

Therefore, if the referee sees this action being committed by a player for the purpose of trying to trip up an opposition player, then they would rightfully call for a foul and caution the offender by giving them a talking to or dishing out a yellow card if they such disciplinary action necessary.

However, because the football isn’t in play when a free kick is set to be taken, a player can’t actually commit a tripping offence even if they were lying on the ground behind the defensive wall.

So, if we’re being pedantic about it, that would mean the referee probably shouldn’t call a foul for a tripping offence in this situation.

On the flip side, once the football is active this call could definitely be made by an official.

You see, if the player in question impacts an opponent through this specific lying down action, perhaps by tripping an attacker with their trailing leg or having a flailing arm come into contact with the ball once it’s struck, then the referee could decide to award a call in favor of the attacking team.

The nature of the play would depend on the action that caused the referee to stop the game.

So, for example, an action that falls within the lines of “dangerous play” could see an indirect free kick awarded.

Conversely, a spot kick could be given if the player lying down tripped an opposition runner in the penalty area.

But this would only happen if the football is in play.


Applicable provision #2 – unsporting behavior

Additionally, the referee could decide to caution a player lying down behind the wall for unsporting behavior – which could be interpreted as showing a lack of respect for the game.

Now, this provision is obviously subjective and would be applied on a case by case basis.

Some officials will think this action is fair game, whereas others will disagree and be keen to clamp down on such behavior.

Although laying down behind the wall – as a part of it – in an attempt to stop an attacker from scoring can easily be seen as being within the scope of legality considering the fact that the intention isn’t to cause harm to any opposition player but to simply defend their goal.

Ultimately, the act of lying down behind the defensive wall doesn’t have any specific rule specifying its illegality, which means that the action is typically regarded as being “above board” especially if the ball is not yet in play.


Who started lying down behind the wall in football?

This practice is said to have been conceived by a Figueirense midfielder called Ricardinho – in a Campeonato Serie B match that took place in 2013.

Take a look at the video footage below for evidence of this:

You can clearly see Ricardinho in the white kit positioning himself as part of the wall just behind his team mates who are standing upright.

And prior to the ball being hit by Palmeiras’ free kick specialist – Jorge Valdivia – he crouches down and then lies flat, anticipating the taker to strike the ball along the ground.

Free kick takers in Brazil were taking the opportunity to hit the ball hard and low, choosing to go beneath the wall for quite some time.

So Ricardinho devised this method as a way of combating the threat that such set piece takers had.

He talks about this himself:

“I tend to study a lot before matches and I saw that before the game against Palmeiras, Valdivia tried to make the ball go under the wall. I decided during the game and I didn’t tell anyone. I thought the odds that Valdivia would try to pull it off were high. I had seen someone take a knee before, but never lie down.”

Source – ESPN

Unfortunately for him, a future opponent Lucio Flavio who was a great free kick taker in his own right, spotted this innovative counter measure and was able to curl a shot into the top corner and equalize for his team, even with Ricardinho lying down behind the wall.

Here’s how that situation played out:

The action probably had some influence on Flavio’s decision to go for a curled strike up and over the wall as opposed to along the ground.


Examples of players who lie down behind the wall

Despite having its roots in Brazil, this practice only gained major worldwide recognition when it was implemented in a UEFA competition.


1. Marcelo Brozovic

Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic slid down behind the wall before a Luis Suarez free kick, when his team played Barcelona in a Champions League fixture back in 2018.


2. Lionel Messi

This is a name you probably didn’t expect to see!

Well, Messi has had to lie down once during a fiercely contested Champions League clash with Manchester City.

As Kevin De Bruyne lined up to take the set piece, Messi did what was necessary to block any attempt by the Belgian to put one beneath the wall.


3. Douglas Costa

The German Bundesliga has also seen this practice utilized quite effectively.

Bayern Munich’s former player Douglas Costa took one for the team by choosing to lie down behind the defensive wall put up by his team mates.

Here’s the footage of that incident:


Who started the under the wall free kick technique?

The Brazilian maestro Ronaldinho is the person who first employed this method of striking the ball from free kick situations.

He was a flair player known for doing the unexpected on the pitch, so it doesn’t even come as a surprise that he was the player who invented this crafty shooting technique.

Here’s a good example of how he executed this move:


Final thoughts

That brings us to the end of this article on why footballers tend to lie down behind the wall in preparation for free kicks.

It’s clearly an effective way of preventing the opposition taker from scoring through slotting the ball into the goal by keeping it moving along the ground.

For more content on some of football’s most fascinating aspects, check out the motivations behind player performance tracking.

Samuel Waihenya
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