When the inaugural English Football Association first penned the Laws of the Game in 1863, it's unlikely that its members could have imagined how the sport would change and evolve throughout the following centuries. Most of football's rules have been tweaked over the years, although certain things have stayed the same throughout the entire history of the game, including guidelines surrounding the field of play and the number of players in each line-up.
One law that was introduced just nine years after the original Laws were founded was the corner kick rule. Corners first came in in 1872, and they've been a key part of the game ever since. However, the exact rules surrounding the soccer corner have evolved and changed slightly as time has passed.
In this article, we'll be outlining exactly what a soccer corner is and explaining the important role they play in the sport. We'll provide details about when a corner is awarded, how they are employed by different teams, and whether you can score directly from a corner kick. By the time we're finished, you'll be well versed in this vital aspect of the modern game.
The soccer corner is a crucial element of the game, and it's very rare to see a 45-minute half of a football match to go by without at least a couple of corners. Sometimes you'll see as many as 15 or 20 corners in a single match. But what exactly is the reason for this soccer rule?
A corner kick in soccer is awarded when the ball goes out of play via the end touchline, without a goal being scored, having last touched a player on the defending team. When the ball hits an attacker last before crossing the line, a goal kick is awarded; however, if it's a defender that it touches, a corner kick is given in order to award the attacking team for the pressure they're applying.
Unlike soccer throw-ins, soccer corner kicks are not taken from the spot at which they exit the pitch. Instead, corners are taken from the corner of the pitch (the clue's in the name), having been placed in one of four designated areas (the closest corner area to where the ball passed over the goal line).
When a corner is taken, the ball needs to be stationary and kicked by a player on the attacking team, from within the white markings of the corner area, or arc.
Typically, attacking players will aim to cross the ball into a dangerous part of the opposition penalty area, creating chances by launching aerial balls into the most threatening zone of the soccer field. In order to boost the danger in these moments, most teams will load the opposition penalty box with their most aerially dangerous players, with tall, physical centre-backs being pulled up from the back to join strikers and midfielders in attempting to get on the end of the incoming cross.
There are a few details that need to be taken into consideration when a player takes a corner kick. First of all, the corner flagpost must not be moved, and the ball must be completely still when it is kicked. The ball also must be in play when it is kicked and it should then clearly move, although it does not have to leave the corner area.
Defending players also need to be mindful of their positioning; they should remain at least 10 yards (or 9.15 metres) away from the corner arc until the ball is in play. If having taken a corner the corner kicker touches the ball for a second time before it has touched another player, this is an illegal offence and an indirect free kick will be awarded to the opposition team.
Play can be continued if a corner taker deliberately kicks the ball at an opponent, as long as it isn't judged to be careless, reckless or using excessive force. However, this rarely happens — defending players will be punished by referees as soon as they break the 10 yard rule and chase down a corner from too close range.
Over the years, certain players have distinguished themselves when it comes to taking corners, becoming renowned across the world for their ability to swing in potent crosses and gain assists as a result. Here are a few of the best.
The new Netflix documentary 'Beckham' brought the story of the world's most famous free kick taker to viewers all over the world, and the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy man was also extremely well known for his ability to curl in inch-perfect corners to attacking teammates. He played a massive role in United's iconic 1999 Champions League campaign, recording eight assists in ten games, and his corner led to Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer's famous late winner against Bayern Munich in the final.
The Italy and Juventus legend was famous for his dead ball ability, with the deep-lying playmaker consistently meandering forward to swing in beautiful balls from the corner flag. His ability to make the ball dip, swerve and swing in any direction he wanted made his corners extremely difficult to defend against throughout his career.
Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick-thinking corner against Barcelona in their famous 2019 Champions League semi-final win remains one of his finest moments in a Liverpool shirt; however, the right-back has consistently whipped in excellent corner kicks for Jurgen Klopp's side, and is one of the best in the world from dead ball situations. Despite his youth, he's already notched 13 assists direct from corners.
The career of the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and La Liga-winning ex-Barca midfielder was littered with magical moments, and many of them came from set pieces. The Spaniard had excellent ball striking ability and was able to curl in a wide range of different corners to create glorious attacking opportunities — in fact, if it wasn't for his corner against Germany in the semis of the 2010 World Cup (which Carlos Puyol converted), Spain may not have reached the World Cup final.
It's extremely rare to see a professional player score directly from a corner kick. However, it is perfectly legal to do so. Unlike with throw-ins, where a goal will be disallowed and a goal kick awarded if the ball goes directly into the opposition net without touching another player, with corners there is no rule to stop a player launching a corner kick directly into the net.
It takes impressive technical skill to do this, however. In order to convert a soccer corner directly, a player will typically need to produce an in-swinging corner, taking their run-up from behind the goal line and curling the ball using the inside of their foot to direct it toward the far corner of the net.
As you can imagine, this is a difficult technique to pull off, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been done on numerous occasions. There have been a few famous corner kick goals over the years at the top of the game; in 2020, German international Toni Kroos scored one against Valencia for Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final, superstar crosser David Beckham did the same while in the MLS with LA Galaxy, and unsurprisingly, Brazilian set piece maestro Roberto Carlos also scored direct from a corner for Corinthians in 2010.
If you watch football regularly, you're likely to have heard commentators and pundits referring to 'set pieces' on a fairly consistent basis. Set pieces are a broader umbrella under which the soccer corner falls — but what does this term actually mean?
Set piece is a catch-all term for a range of different dead ball situations; corner kicks, free kicks, goal kicks, and throw ins are all different types of set piece. These situations, given when a foul is committed or the ball is kicked out of play by an opposition player, offer an excellent opportunity for a team to create a goal scoring chance from a standing start.
The role of set pieces in football has changed a lot over the years, as different coaches, managers and strategists have devised different ways of gaining advantages from these types of situations. In the late 2000s, Tony Pulis' Stoke City side achieved notoriety for their use of extremely long throw-ins, which caused havoc in the opposition penalty area thanks to Rory Delap's huge launches.
More recently, Brentford have become renowned for their innovative set piece coaching, achieving extremely high xG statistics from attacking throw-ins and corners and calling many fans and pundits to hail the return of the long throw.
In order to become an effective set piece taker, there's one key skill you need to work extremely hard on: ball striking. This is an aspect of the game that is often overlooked, with the short-term results demanded at most top clubs meaning that many coaches prefer to exert energy on tactical instruction, physical preparation and sports science in the run-up to games each week. Meanwhile, perfecting different types of strike, from close range finessed finishes to 30-yard half-volleyed finishes with the laces, is something that takes a huge amount of time.
However, if the effort is put in, the results that can be gained from specialist ball striking coaching can be huge. If you'd like to find out more about this fascinating area of the game, check out our exclusive interview with Bartek Sylwestrzak, the world's first expert ball striking coach.