What Is a Set Piece in Soccer

what is a set piece in soccer

Your Guide

Alex Waite   Alex Waite

Set pieces in soccer are a big part of the game, and all aspects of set pieces require skills and execution. Attacking, defending, technique, timing and physicality are all needed for a successful set play.

They also represent opportunities for the attacking team to get further up the pitch and to potentially score.

When I played soccer my team repeated set-piece routines in training over and over. It was monotonous and almost regimental. Players were almost like chess pieces, given direct instructions on where to be and what to do.

However, the more you play the sport, the more you realise that preparation is vital to a successful set-piece. There is nothing worse than defending a set play, seeing the ball crossed in and going into your team’s net.

The different types of set play and when they occur can be confusing, as there are a few. We will look at the different dead balls situations and explain why they are called set-pieces.

What is a Set Piece in Soccer?

A set-piece in soccer refers to a situation where the ball is returned to play. This follows the ball going off the pitch for either a goal kick, throw-in or corner or when open play is stopped for a foul leading to a free kick or penalty.

Set pieces are also referred to as dead-ball situations or set plays.

Below are the five different types of set-pieces, along with an explanation about when they occur. Set pieces are referred to under Law 16 in the official FIFA Laws of the Game. 

1) Set Piece Starting From A Goal Kick

When the ball comes off an attacking team player and goes behind the goal. Play is restarted when the goalkeeper, or any player, kicks the ball from the edge of the six-yard area.

2) Set Piece From a Corner

If the ball comes off a defending team player and goes behind the goal, the attacking team gets a corner.

Corners are taken, as the name suggests, from the corner of the football pitch. They must be taken inside or on the edge of a quarter circle at each corner of the field.

Sometimes, teams will take short corners to slow the pace of a match. Alternatively, if they want to score, a cross will be whipped in from the corner spot.

3) Set piece from a Throw In

A throw-in is given when the ball goes off the side of the pitch. Throw-ins must be taken from where the ball went out of play.

Players can be punished for encroaching further than where the ball went out. Some teams practise long throws as they would corner routines.

In the late 2000s, Stoke City was renowned for its long-throw set pieces, delivered by the brute arm of midfielder Rory Delap, often leading to havoc in the penalty area.

4)Set Piece From A Free Kick

If a team is in possession and one of their players is fouled, they are given a free kick. Referees give free-kicks anywhere on the pitch, except in the defending team’s penalty area.

Often, players choose to shoot when a free kick is 30 yards or less from the goal line. Anything longer usually results in a long ball delivered into the penalty area.

5) Set Piece From A Penalty

A penalty is given when an attacking team player is fouled inside the defending team’s penalty area.

One player from the attacking team will restart play by shooting from the penalty spot, marked 12 yards from the goal line.

Penalties are a one on one situation where a player from the attacking team will take a one-off shot against the goalkeeper from the defending team.

Why is it called a Set Piece?

These situations are called set-pieces because players take up pre-planned positions on the pitch.

For example, a team may rehearse a routine for a corner kick where their tallest players line up on the edge of the box. From here, they will try to get a run on the defenders and try to jump highest and header towards goal.

As a corner is usually taken from the same distance, they can be practised more easily in training.

The same applies to penalties and even goal kick routines. Although, some teams now even practise where players will line up during penalties or rehearse where to stand during goal kicks.

Professional teams are becoming more inventive with corner kick routines. In the past, some players would simply apply a hit and hope approach, aiming the ball towards tall players in a bid for them to score a header.

Now, teams are more innovative and use clever tricks to catch out defending teams, as seen through Bundesliga 2 club Bochum and their well-rehearsed corner routine against Dynamo Dresden in 2016.

Best Set Piece takers in Soccer

Many young soccer players idolise great set-piece takers. The technique and the beauty of a well-struck free-kick goal is something to admire in any soccer match.

When I grew up in England in the 1990s, and early 2000s, my friends and I would try to recreate the free-kicks scored by David Beckham, Thierry Henry or Gianfranco Zola, who played in the Premier League at the time.

Any player at any level wants to try and score a free-kick at some stage in their career.

Being an expert set-piece means scoring from free-kicks regularly. Delivery and setting up teammates from dead ball situations elevate the best set-piece takers in the game.

You may hear stories of professional players staying behind at training to practice their free kicks, corners and penalties. All this additional effort certainly paid off for these set-piece greats.

  1. Juninho Pernambucano (Brazil) – 77 free kicks scored

  2. Pele (Brazil) – 70 free kicks scored

  3. Víctor Legrotaglie (Argentina) – 66 free kicks scored

  4. Ronaldinho (Brazil) – 66 free kicks scored

  5. David Beckham (England) – 65 free kicks scored


Set-pieces in soccer refer to several parts of the game; free-kicks, corners, penalties, throw-ins and goal kicks.  All set pieces are linked by one common feature. They all occur after the ball has gone out of play or after a player is fouled and mark the restart of play.

While there are some similarities, different set-pieces are very different. Varying lengths and situations have led soccer teams to practice more and more for potential threats or scoring opportunities from set pieces.

They are now seen as a central part of the game, just as keeping possession, attacking and defending are in open play.

However, one set piece captures the hearts and awe of soccer fans worldwide – the free-kick.

Seeing the ball nestle into the net after a beautifully struck free-kick is a marvel for any soccer fan, and they are moments we all remember, whether we are seasoned soccer enthusiasts or beginners.

What Is a Brace in Soccer

What Is a Brace in Soccer

   Your Guide

Alex Waite   Alex Waite

Soccer terminology is so varied and intriguing, which adds to an entire culture surrounding the sport. 

One phrase used commonly in the sport is the ‘brace’. It is an expression for goal-scoring greats and often the source of much joy for commentators, fans and pundits alike. 

When I watch and discuss soccer matches with other writers and fans, the word brace comes up a lot.

But I wasn’t always aware of what the term means, and it took an explanation from my soccer-mad father to explain the meaning after hearing a commentator refer to a brace on Match of the Day. 

What is a Brace?

A brace is a term for when a player scores two goals in a match. The goals do not have to be scored consecutively, and any player can score a brace at any time in a soccer game. 

For example, England striker Harry Kane scored two goals in a 4-0 win against Ukraine in the 2020 European Championships.

Kane’s goals came first and third in the scoring sequence, broken by Harry Maguire, who scored second.

But Kane still got his brace as he scored twice in the match. 

Any of the 22 players on a soccer pitch can score a brace, even the goalkeeper!

This is extremely rare as goalkeepers are the players tasked with keeping the ball out of the goal. Occasionally this does happen. 

Brazilian goalkeeper Rogério Ceni has scored the most goals of any goalkeeper in professional football.

He found the net a whopping 128 goals for Sao Paulo in his 15-year career, including multiple braces.

Ceni famously scored a free-kick and penalty brace against Brazilian side Cruzeiro in 2006 and overtook José Luis Chilavert as the highest-scoring goalkeeper in soccer. 

Why a Brace? Origins of the Term

The word brace is rarely used in everyday language. Today, it is exclusively a soccer term.

But where did the word ‘brace’ originated from? And how did it become solely used in soccer?

Brace was an Old English word for pair. The term originally came from French, meaning a ‘pair of arms’. 

The word brace was used first in hunting as shooting two birds or another animal in one session was referred to as a brace.

Brace was used for centuries in England, and as soccer gained widespread popularity in the mid to late 1800s, the word found its way into the terraces as fans watched their favourite teams.

As a result, fans would say a player scored a brace if they scored twice in a match, lining the old hunting phrase to soccer.

Like many terms in soccer, including a hat-trick, a clean sheet and nutmeg, the brace has come from wider English society and history. 

Famous Braces in Soccer History

Scoring a brace at any level of soccer is quite an achievement. But scoring twice in one game at the highest level is even more impressive. 

Some of the greatest players ever haven’t held back their goal-scoring prowess and scored braces against some of the world’s best opposition on the biggest stages. 

Below are some of the most famous braces scored in soccer to date, including some of the quickest brace-scorers ever. 

  1. The Quickest Brace in the World Cup: Toni Kroos (Brazil vs Germany 2014): T – 69 seconds

  1. The Quickest Brace in the Champions League: Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus vs Tottenham 2018) – 8 minutes and 7 seconds
  1. The Quickest Brace in a World Cup final: Ronaldo (Brazil vs Germany 2002): – 12 minutes


A brace in soccer is another way of saying a player scored two goals in a match.

The term has roots as old as the sport itself, and it is still a commonly used phrase by commentators, fans, players, pundits and coaches. 

Any player in any position can score a brace in a soccer match.

However, strikers are usually the beneficiaries, often scoring one or more goals in soccer matches.

Occasionally, midfielders or defenders will score braces (as Toni Kroos proved for Germany in 2014.) Rarely goalkeepers will find the net twice in the same game too. 

Scoring a brace at any level is impressive. Often, it is due to the skill and well-timed positioning that will lead to more goal scoring opportunities for players in soccer matches.

Best of the Rest: All-time Cap Holders in International Soccer

Sergio Ramos

  Your Guide

Alex Waite

Alex Waite

International soccer is the pinnacle for many professional players. To represent one’s country at the highest level brings honour and pride for many; it is a moment of dreams and usually a culmination of dedication and hard work.

Some players may receive just one cap in their career. England player Martin Kelly currently has the unfortunate record of making the shortest appearance for the country.

The defender came on as a substitute on 87 minutes in a friendly against Norway, playing just two minutes and 39 seconds.

Although some players make fleeting appearances for their country, others have withstood the test of time and became stalwarts on the international stage.

In this article, we profile some of the most prolific cap earners in male and female soccer.

Most Capped Male Soccer Players

Soccer players earn a metaphorical cap each time they play for their country in FIFA Category A matches.

So, reaching 100 caps is considered a milestone for any professional player. But to surpass 100 appearances is an outstanding achievement.

Many players have been recognized by FIFA for earning 100 caps or more on the international stage. Some have eclipsed this and played most of their career at the top level.

Below are the most capped male players in professional soccer:

1. Ahmed Hassan – 184 caps (Egypt): A mainstay of the Egyptian national team for nearly two decades, Hassan boasts an impressive international career.

Ahmed Hassan

Between 1995 and 2012, the midfielder won four Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with Egypt and was named AFCON player of the tournament in 2006 and 2010. 

Hassan captained his nation countless times, and his all-time caps record is a testament to his outstanding career for the Pharaohs. 

2. Ahmed Mubarak – 180 caps (Oman): Ahmed Mubarak, nicknamed Kano, is the most capped active player, along with Sergio Ramos.

Kano made his debut for Oman in 2003 and has captained his nation for nearly 16 years. A midfielder enforcer, Kano is well-known for his defensive skills, and he has been central to the team’s success in recent years.

Kano helped Oman win their first Arabian Gulf Cup in 2009. He also captained the side to a second Gulf Cup win in 2018 and won the MVP award at the same time.

3. Sergio Ramos – 180 caps (Spain): Sergio Ramos is the most capped player for Spain.

Sergio Ramos

With 180 caps, Ramos has made more appearances than Spain greats including, Iker Casillas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

The veteran defender was a key member of three consecutive major tournament wins when La Rioja won two European Championships (2008 and 2012) and one World Cup (2010).

4. Bader Al-Mutawa – 179 caps (Kuwait): Al-Mutawa still plays for Kuwait at the age of 36, and he is on course to surpass Hassan’s all-time caps record.

The striker made his debut for Kuwait in 2003 and continues to make the starting XI of the national team regularly.

Although Al-Mutawa has not won a major tournament with his country, he won the Arabian Gulf Cup in 2010 and finished as the top scorer with three goals.

5. Mohammed Al Deayea – 178 caps (Saudi Arabia): Al Deayea is the highest capped goalkeeper in international soccer.

After making his first international appearance in 1993, Al Deayea held on to the Saudi Arabian goalkeeper position for 13 years.

The long-standing keeper also helped his nation reach four World Cups between 1994 and 2006 and was a key player in his nation’s Gulf Cup wins in 1994 and 2003 and the Asian Cup in 1996.

Most Capped Female Soccer Players

In women’s soccer, the same rules apply for receiving caps.

Players must represent their country in a FIFA category A match to earn a cap. Included in this are the Olympics and friendly fixtures along with continental and international competitions or tournaments.

Nearly 350 female players have surpassed 100 caps for their country.

The majority of these players played for the United States Women’s National Team (USNWT), with eight of the top 10 most capped players represented the USNWT.

Below are the most capped female players at the international level:

1. Kristine Lily – 354 caps (USA): Lily debuted for the USNWT in 1987 and represented her country on the international stage for 24 years.

The former midfielder achieved phenomenal success and consistency during her international career. Lily played in five World Cups, winning two and three Olympics, also winning two and finishing second in another.

Not only is Lily the most capped soccer player on the planet, but she also scored 130 goals in her international career. Her longevity and dedication to succeed at the highest level may never be surpassed.

2. Christie Pearce – 311 caps (USA): US full-back Christie Pearce was a stalwart in defence for nearly two decades.

Pearce represented the USNWT at four World Cups between 1999 and 2015 and played in four consecutive Olympics. She maintained high-standard throughout her career, winning two World Cups (1999 and 2015) and three Olympics (2004, 2008 and 2012).

Despite her impressive international career, Pearce could have achieved more caps if not for a severe cruciate ligament injury in 2001.

The injury kept her out of the game for over a year. Consequently, she was unable to add to an already impressive caps tally.

3. Carli Lloyd – 302 caps (USA): Carli Lloyd is the highest cap holder still active in international women’s soccer. 

Carli Lloyd

The attacking midfielder remains an integral part of the USWNT and still represents her country at the highest level.

Lloyd is well known for her exceptional goalscoring capabilities and has 125 goals to date.  

She has also produced some of the most memorable moments of any player for the US, scoring a 15-minute hat-trick in the 2015 World Cup final, one of which was from the halfway line!

4. Christine Sinclair – 297 caps (Canada): The only leading cap holder outside of the US, Christine Sinclair is one of Canada’s most decorated soccer players.

Christine Sinclair soccer caps

A prolific striker, Sinclair also boasts another impressive record. She is the highest ever goalscorer in all international soccer with 187 and counting.

In addition to her overall goalscoring record, Sinclair has also captained Canada at four successive Olympics and scored at five separate major tournaments.

She also found the net six times at the 2012 Olympics – the most goals scorer in a major female soccer competition. 

5. Mia Hamm – 267 caps (USA): During a 17-year career with the US national team, striker Mia Hamm scored 158 goals, won two World Cups and two Olympics.

Mia Hamm soccer caps

Hamm made her international debut in 1987, aged 15, making her the youngest player to represent the USNWT.

She was a player who maintained an elite level of performance throughout her career, acknowledged by winning the USA Soccer Female Athlete of the Year for five consecutive years between 1994 and 1998.


Achieving well in soccer at any level is a challenge. Whether you’re a beginner, just starting with a new team, or a seasoned professional, performing at the peak of your abilities requires unwavering commitment.

The players above epitomise success within soccer. An ability to perform on the international stage year after year and in some of the world’s most competitive tournaments is admirable and a fantastic inspiration to any budding sportsperson.

For these players, earning each cap is not just another number to add to a list; it is a source of honour and pride.

What is a Yellow Card in Soccer?

What is a Yellow Card in Soccer

Your Guide

Alex Waite   Alex Waite

During a soccer match, you may see the referee reach into their pocket and thrust a yellow card in the air in the direction of a player.

This often follows a bad tackle, a player arguing with the referee or when someone tries to waste time to take pressure off their team. 

When the referee shows a player a yellow card, also known as a booking, it is a warning from the referee.

They are showing, with their actions, that the player, or manager, in question, is on their final warning for breaking the rules of a soccer match.

At face value, the yellow card may be a warning sign. However, it has a deeper meaning.

There are many offences where a player, manager, coach, physio or anyone involved with either team could receive a yellow card in soccer.

Furthermore, when a referee brandishes a yellow card, it is often the source of much debate among soccer fans; should it have been a red card instead?

Was it a harsh booking?

Did the referee make a mistake?

Below, we take a look at what the yellow card means in soccer and consider its implications.

We also highlight some of the most serial yellow card offenders who have received the most yellow cards in soccer history.

Yellow Card Offences

There are several reasons why someone would receive a yellow card in soccer.

The exact rules are defined by the International Football Association Board Laws of the Game, and they are updated before each season. 

Law 12 – ‘Fouls and Misconduct’ – covers all the actions when someone could receive a yellow card.

Overall, 29 offences exist for a yellow card, and these are organised into three main categories (fouls, misconduct and unsporting behaviour). 

Before the 2019/20 season, the rules were altered to include offences relating to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the leagues where it was used. Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A rules were changed to include VAR offences.

These involve players trying to interfere with a referee’s decision or looking at the monitor when the referee is viewing an incident.

Below are the most common yellow card offences in soccer:

  • · A reckless tackle that could cause an injury.
  • · Depriving an opponent of a scoring chance by breaking up an attack.
  • · Preventing a player from getting to the ball by holding or shirt-tugging.
  • · Preventing an attack by handling the ball.
  • · Attempting to score by handling the ball.
  • · Trying to influence the referee with a feigned injury to punish an opponent.
  • · Showing dissent by a comment or action.
  • · A reckless tackle that could cause an injury.
  • · Depriving an opponent of a scoring chance by breaking up an attack.
  • · Preventing a player from getting to the ball by holding or shirt-tugging.
  • · Preventing an attack by handling the ball.
  • · Attempting to score by handling the ball.
  • · Trying to influence the referee with a feigned injury to punish an opponent.
  • · Pretending to be injured by a foul to fool the referee.

While most yellow cards are shown during the 90 minutes of a soccer match, referees can also book or send off players after the final whistle.

Implications of a Yellow Card

There are short term and long-term implications for receiving a yellow card.

If a player is booked twice in a match, they are sent off, meaning they have to leave the pitch, and their team is reduced from 11 to 10 players.  

Longer-term, if a player is sent off for two yellow cards, they usually miss the next fixture, as long as it’s in the same competition.

Players are also banned if they accumulate enough yellow cards during a tournament or league season.

For example, players in the Premier League are banned for one match if they receive five bookings in a season.

If the same player receives 10 bookings in a season, they miss two fixtures. 

Backroom staff, such as managers, coaches and physios, can also be sent off during a match.

In the 2020/21 season, Ranger’s manager Steve Gerrard was given two yellow cards for dissent by comment or action towards the referee. Subsequently, he was banned for Rangers’ next match against fierce rivals Celtic.

What do Traffic Lights and Yellow Cards have in common?

Today, yellow and red cards in soccer are part of the fabric of the game. Rarely does a game pass without at least one yellow card shown.

However, this was not always the case. Before red and yellow cards were first used in the 1970 World Cup, referees did not have the option to brandish either card.

Discipline in soccer was a problem decades ago, and former English referee Ken Aston was central to regaining control of the soccer field.

Aston officiated the 1962 World Cup match between Chile and Italy, known as the Battle of Santiago, due to the violence between players during the encounter.

Two Italian players were sent off during the match, and both offenders, Giorgio Ferrini and Mario David struggled to understand Aston’s demands for them to leave the field of play.

The players protested so vociferously that the police had to escort the players off the pitch.

The difficulty with discipline continued in top-level soccer, and violence rose again in the 1966 World Cup, where Aston was appointed Head of Refereeing.

Baffled about how to regain control of the escalating ill-discipline in the game, inspiration eventually struck Aston as he drove around London one day.

He saw the traffic lights change from yellow to red and recognised that the ‘get ready to stop’ and ‘stop’ signals could be used in refereeing.

Aston pitched his idea to FIFA, and yellow and red cards were first used by referees at the Mexico World Cup in 1970.

It was a simple idea that changed the way players behaved and how referees became seen as central figures of the game.

Bad Boys: The Most booked Players in History

Yellow cards have become common in modern soccer, with more and more rules introduced each season. But some players have gone above and beyond in their quest to get booked throughout their careers.

Below are the professional soccer players who have received the most yellow cards in soccer history. It may be no surprise that most are defenders or midfielders, prone to tackle more than others.

1.  Sergio Ramos – 263

2.  Gerardo Torrado – 228

3.  Dani Alves – 210

4.  Xabi Alonso – 197

5.  Daniele Conti – 190


It is hard to imagine a time when soccer was played without the yellow card. Born out of a violent backdrop in the sport, the traffic light system invented by Ken Aston changed the sport forever.

There are still some instances where players, fans, coaches etc will contest a booking for being harsh or ill-timed.

However, when a yellow card is shown in soccer, it is almost universally accepted as part of the modern game. 

Without the yellow card, soccer matches have the potential to descend into chaos, as witnessed in Ashton’s unenviable task of officiating the 1962 match between Chile and Italy.

Soccer rules revolve around yellow and red cards, with minor tweaks and changes made each year, aiming to improve the quality of behaviour and standard of soccer across the board. 

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