England set-piece mastery reaping rewards
REPINO, Russia (AP):
Forget bending them like Beckham. At this World Cup, it has been a case of teasing them in like Trippier and angling them in like Ashley.
Set pieces have been the main source of goals at the tournament in Russia 42 per cent, no less and England have been the master of that department on their run to the semi-finals.
Eight of their 11 goals so far have come via free kicks, corners or penalties, which is four more than any other team and the most since Portugal also scored eight set-piece goals at the World Cup in 1966.
This hasn't come about by fluke. Meticulous preparation including a trip to the United States to take in an NBA game the selection of specific players with strong dead-ball delivery, and the defensive nature of high-pressure tournament football has led to a point where set pieces could yet lead England to a second World Cup title.
"Set pieces have been a massive thing for us and other teams through the whole of the World Cup," Ashley Young, one of England's set-piece takers, said on Monday. "Obviously, we work on them in attack and defence, and they are vitally important for us.
"They have worked in our favour and we'll carry on working on them."
A decade ago, England had one of the best set-piece takers in football in David Beckham, whose precision and ability to curl the ball in from the wing was an important weapon at major tournaments. So famous were his crosses that a movie, "Bend It Like Beckham," was spun off it in 2002.
In England's class of 2018, free kicks, corners and wide crosses are mostly provided by England's wing backs, Young and Kieran Trippier, and they are proving tough to defend.