What Are Set Pieces in Soccer?

By Luís Miguel
Updated on

I bet you have already wondered: What are set pieces in soccer?
I totally get why you would ask that.

Soccer has such a great number of weird names, conventions and lots of different laws and rules that hard to understand.

That’s especially the case when you’re just getting started or are new to the game.

If you are yet to understand soccer set pieces, worry no more; this article here will explain everything.

More than a simple and straightforward set piece definition, we’ll explain you all of the different kinds of set pieces in soccer from throw-ins, corner kicks and goal kicks to free kicks and penalty kicks.

Set Piece Definition: What Are Set Pieces in Soccer?

Without further ado, let me give you a clear set piece definition.

Set pieces in soccer are what happen following a stoppage of play due to a foul or the ball going out of bounds.

They range from throw-ins, corner kicks and goal kicks to penalties and free kicks.

Each of these events usually takes place after the referee’s whistle is blown because of a foul or the ball going out of bounds.

A set piece takes place in what can be called a “dead ball” situation as the game has been paused until one of the aforementioned events occurs.

What Are Throw-ins In Soccer?

The only set piece that doesn’t involve kicking the ball is the throw-in.

A throw-in happens when the ball crosses the touchline (or sideline), the longest lines on the field (one of each of the sides).

The team that doesn’t touch the ball last before it goes out will get the throw-in.

For a throw-in, the player has to keep both feet on the ground and bring the ball from his / her back fully over the head with both hands before throwing it back into play.

This is the only time field players (i.e., all footballers other than the goalie) can touch the ball with their hands.

What Are Corner Kicks?

When the ball crosses the goal line (located on both ends of the field) it’s either a corner or goal kick.

A corner kick is exactly how it sounds as the ball gets placed into the corner of the field on the side it exited on, if last touched by the defending team.

There is a marked-off space in the corner in which the ball has to be placed.

From there, the player kicking the ball will try and find a teammate somewhere in the penalty area (the 18-yard / meter box, also called goal box), if not the goal area (6-yard / meter box), to latch onto the ball, most often being a header.

Sometimes, a team uses set plays in order for attacking players to get open in front of the goal so they can knock the ball in.

If the attacking team is the last to touch the ball, it becomes a goal kick.

Goal Kicks in Soccer: What Are They?

The goal kick is the simplest of kicks as the kicker’s purpose is usually to kick it as far away from the goal as possible into the vicinity of teammates to resume play and start an attack.

The ball gets placed on either the left or right side of the top line of the goal area, with the side being the kicker’s choice.

In youth games, it’s sometimes easier to pass it to a defender that’s nearby, as kids don’t have the same kind of power to kick it down the field.

The easiest method would be to find a teammate on the same side of the field to pass to so the kicker doesn’t pass the ball across the face of the goal.

The kick taker is often the goalkeeper, but sometimes that can be delegated to a defender that has a stronger leg.

What Are Soccer Penalty Kicks?

Penalty kicks are the easiest type of kicks to understand, although they can also be considered the most difficult to understand for why one is called.

One is called when an attacking player gets fouled inside the opposing team’s 18-yard box (penalty area).

Calling a penalty is up to the referee’s digression and most often simple fouls that are called outside of the box will not be called because of the value and importance of a penalty kick.

When a player clearly makes a poor foul inside the penalty area or when a defender is the last one left and fouls an attacker on a breakaway that will more often than not result in a penalty.

A handball can be called as well, but again, that’s up to the referee to make the choice on whether it’s inadvertent or not (inadvertent handballs should not be called).

As for the penalty kick itself, the ball is placed on the penalty spot, which is 12 yards / meters out from the center of the goal.

This will leave the penalty taker and the goalie in a one-on-one situation where no dribbling is allowed.

The kicker has to approach the ball in one fluid motion while the goalie cannot leave the goal line before it is kicked.

The rest of the players in the game have to stay outside the penalty area, but can charge in once the ball is kicked.

What Are Free Kicks?

For free kicks, there is a wide variance of situations.

To start, there are two types of free kicks with indirect kicks occurring from offsides and less serious fouls like unsporting behavior.

Direct kicks are more common as they are called from a contact foul or handball.

Indirect kicks have to be touched by at least one more player before being put on net, while direct kicks can be shot on net.

Free kicks have a wide range of outcome because they can be called anywhere on the field (outside of the penalty area).

Kicks on the defensive end for a team are similar to goal kicks as the purpose is to try and advance the ball up the field with help from teammates because simply booting the ball into a bunch of players could easily result in loss of possession.

When a free kick occurs in the attacking end, more often than not you want to try and get an open look on goal.

The closer the kick is to the goal, the easier it is to score.

Here’s an example of a direct free kick.

Grimaldo’s free kick for SL Benfica against GD Chaves on October 29, 2022, for Liga Portugal.

Similar to corner kicks, it may help to run a set play for free kicks on the attacking end in order to get a better look on net.

That can lead to a header in the box or getting a player open on the outside of what is usually a mess of players in the middle.

In Conclusion

Set pieces can range from a number of things in soccer all across the pitch, but the big takeaway is that they don’t occur during open play.

One team has rights to the ball whether it’s a kick or throw-in and the other team has to give a reasonable distance, usually 10 yards/meters from a kick or a few yards for a throw-in as to not block the player’s attempt at a set piece.

Guy wearing an SL Benfica jersey holding soccer ball over his head

Article by:

Luís Miguel

As a true soccer enthusiast, I’m Soccermodo’s team captain. My job is to make sure the site’s content is top-notch so that you, our reader, can focus solely on improving your game and reach new heights.