Set Pieces and Headers Making the Difference at the Women's World Cup
After seven days of play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup there is one obvious trend: Set pieces and headers result in goals. Including Saturday’s four goals, 13 of the tournament total of 29 goals have resulted from a dead ball or a header. That statistic is an astounding 45%.
Anyone well informed in the game of soccer knows that set pieces are dangerous. Free kicks and corner kicks are seen as major goal-scoring opportunities. Teams practice set pieces relentlessly, and what is the typical way to finish a free kick played in the air? That’s right, a header. Previous major tournaments — whether men’s, women’s or at the youth level — have always demonstrated the importance of set pieces.
It is one of the only facets in soccer that a team can make a planned ‘play’. And the squads in this year’s World Cup are taking full advantage of these opportunities. Sure, Monica Ocampo’s game tying goal for Mexico was a 30 yard screamer that will be talked about throughout the rest of the tournament but the set piece and header finishes have proven to be a mainstay.
Japan’s Aya Miyama scored the game winner against New Zealand with a perfectly executed set piece. Amber Hearn scored the Kiwi’s first goal ever in the tournament off a header. Christine Sinclair scored her goal against Germany with a free kick placed in the upper right corner. England’s Jill Scott started the Lionesses comeback against New Zealand on Friday by scoring with her head. Homare Sawa’s hat-trick consisted of two of the three goals being a combination of a set piece and a header.
Enough evidence? As group play rounds out this week it will be interesting to see whether teams will change their defensive strategies to prevent more set piece goals. Doubling up on defense in these situations or simply preventing fouls within shooting range could change the pattern. The finesse and technical ability of this year’s participants may overpower any alterations on the defensive end.
This year’s World Cup has, thus far, been the most balanced and competitive in memory. With so little separating the teams in the normal flow of the game, effective set piece execution will in all likelihood continue to separate the winners from the losers.