In the buildup to the World Cup of 1998 in France, Brazilian Roberto Carlos scored the most iconic freekick in history. The Real Madrid left-back curled the ball around a wall of players created to block his shot. French goalkeeper, Fabian Barthez, looked on helplessly as he stepped to his right to get a better view of the ball. The movement of the ball bypassed the wall and left Barthez helpless in his goal.
The question posed by many experts is, would the French goalkeeper have had a better chance of saving the ball if his wall of players was not in place? In the buildup to taking the freekick, Barthez can be seen inching to his right for a better view. The ball eventually struck the top left corner of Barthez’s goal, with the wall failing to cause a problem from 38-yards out.
From such a long distance from goal, would Barthez have been able to step to his left and catch the Carlos freekick? A recently developed simulator has taken a close-up look at the effectiveness of a wall. The simulator used video of previously taken freekicks and allows a realistic view of the freekick taker and other players. In the last few years, goalkeepers have added players kneeling behind the wall to block shots. The effect of these additional players has been to make it more difficult for a goalkeeper to track the flight of the freekick.
The wall gives a goalkeeper more confidence in their ability to block a direct freekick. However, the goalkeeper has less time to react when a wall is in place. The study shows the wall quickly becomes a barrier for the goalkeeper and the freekick taker.
Goalkeepers were slower to react to the taking of the freekick when a wall was in place. The theory behind using a wall states the kicker has less of a target to hit. In practice, the simulator proves the wall blocks the goalkeeper’s view and slows their reaction times. The simulator ran through a series of freekicks and allowed scientists to judge the reaction times of goalkeepers. The revealing study showed goalkeepers with a clear view of the action had better reaction times. In the situations reproduced in the simulations, the goalkeepers were able to move faster to the ball. Being able to get their hands on the ball increased the possibility of the goalkeeper making the save.
Before you set up without a wall the next time you play a game of soccer, there are some drawbacks to consider. The first is the positioning of the ball on the field. If the goalkeeper is facing a central freekick they were shown to be better protected by the wall. A goalkeeper trying to save a freekick from a central area had less time to react. In central freekick situations, a specialist taker offered problems a wall could help fight. Fast shots are taken directly with pace were the most difficult to face without the help of a wall.
Data and statistics are driving the game of soccer, with goalkeepers given stats on penalties taken by certain players. The future of freekicks has already begun to be affected by stats about the number of times a player becoming important. When a goalie is facing a freekick they should have data available regarding the chances of striking the wall. The data will allow them to decide if a wall is the best option when facing a freekick.
Overall, the study regarding the use of a wall shows goalkeepers will benefit from keeping their view of the ball clear. When a goalkeeper is facing a freekick specialist they should weigh the pros and cons of a wall before making their final decision.