Long Ball in Soccer: Timing, Tactics, and Tricks

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Mastering the long ball in soccer may change the game. With one well-placed kick, players can switch the play, clear their lines, or set up a teammate for to score. I find that long balls require skill, timing, and vision, not just power. The perfect technique makes the ball travel with the desired trajectory and spin, making it easier for a teammate to control and tougher for an opponent to predict.

When and how to hit a long ball are equally important. Before launching one, examine teammates’ positions, the opposition’s movement, and the game’s pace. It’s a strategic move that can catch the adversary off guard and turn the tide in our favor.

It can be a lofted pass that gracefully arcs over defenders or a driven ball that skims over the field. Each has its own utility and can exploit the opposition’s weaknesses. Long balls may be potent weapons for players with experience and insight.

Toronto ON Canada May 27 2023 Richie Laryea 22 defender of the Toronto FC kicks the ball during the MLS Regular Season match between Toronto FC Canada and D.C.United USA at BMO Field in Toronto Canada ○ Soccer Blade
Toronto, ON, Canada -May 27, 2023: Richie Laryea #22 defender of the Toronto FC kicks the ball during the MLS Regular Season game between Toronto FC (Canada) and D.C.United (USA) at BMO Field in Toronto, Canada

The Fundamentals of Long Ball

In soccer, mastering the long ball is essential for changing the dynamics of the game and catching the opposition off-guard. Let’s break down its core concepts.

Watch our video on how to play the long ball:

How to Play a Long Ball in Soccer (Tested Techniques for Distance and Accuracy)

Understanding the Long Ball

The long ball is a strategic pass typically spanning over 30 yards, aimed at advancing the ball quickly upfield, usually to bypass the midfield congestion. When I execute a long ball, my goal is not just to cover distance but also to maintain precision to ensure my teammate can control the ball effectively. Characteristics of a well-hit long ball include a balance of height, distance, and spin, which help in keeping the ball’s trajectory predictable for the receiving player.

Principles of Long Passing

When I prepare for a long pass, the following principles guide my technique:

  1. Body Position: I align my body towards the target, with my non-kicking foot placed beside the ball, pointing in the direction I want the ball to go.
  2. Point of Contact: I strike through the ball’s center for a driven pass or slightly underneath for added height and backspin.
  3. Follow-through: I ensure that my kicking motion continues towards my target, which helps in enhancing the pass accuracy.
  4. Practicing Different Techniques: Depending on the game scenario, I may use the inside of my foot for more control, or the laces for power.
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By honing these skills, I can become proficient in executing long passes, making me a versatile asset to my team.

Technical Skills Required

In mastering the long ball in soccer, I focus on three main technical components: Body Positioning, Ball Contact, and Follow-Through. These elements are crucial for accuracy and power.

Body Positioning

My body positioning is essential for a successful long pass. I ensure my body is aligned with the target, standing at a slight angle to the ball. My non-kicking foot is placed close to the ball, pointing towards my target, providing balance and direction.

Ball Contact

For precise ball contact, I hit the ball with the correct part of my foot. Typically, this involves striking the ball with my foot’s instep. To achieve different effects:

  • Low Driven Pass: I strike the ball’s mid-line.
  • Lofted Pass: I contact the lower half to get underneath the ball.

Follow-Through

My follow-through directly influences the ball’s trajectory and spin. After striking the ball, I continue my kicking leg’s motion towards my target. This increases the power behind my kick and helps maintain the directionality of my long pass.

Tactical Usage

In soccer, the long ball approach can be a potent weapon when used effectively. Mastering this tactic involves understanding when and how to utilize long passes to transition, exploit space, and pivot the point of attack.

Transitioning from Defense to Attack

My team often uses the long ball to quickly shift from defense to attack. This catches opponents off guard, especially after they’ve committed players forward. For instance, a well-placed long ball from a defender or the goalkeeper can launch a rapid counter-attack, ideally aiming for a speedy striker who can outpace the defensive line.

  • Example: Goalkeeper to Striker counter-attack
    • When: Immediately after a saved shot or interception
    • Target: Fast Striker against a high defensive line

Exploiting Space

When I notice the opposition’s defensive block is compact, it might leave vast areas unguarded. Long balls can exploit this space, particularly if I have teammates positioned wide or in advanced areas to receive the ball.

  • Key Player: Wide midfielder or winger
  • Objective: To move the ball into open space behind advancing full-backs

Switching the Point of Attack

I use long balls to switch the point of attack when one side of the field is congested. A diagonal or cross-field ball can quickly displace the ball to an area with more space, offering my teammates a better chance to advance forward or create a new angle of attack.

  • Tactical Shift: From crowded side to open space
    • Typical Pass Route: Diagonal from full-back to opposite winger

By harnessing the long ball in these ways, I aim to maximize my team’s effectiveness on the field.

Sam Mewis, right, of United States women's national soccer team passes the ball against Julia Zigiotti Olme of Sweden women's national soccer team in the third round match of Group F match during the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 in Paris, France
Sam Mewis, right, of United States women’s national soccer team passes the ball against Julia Zigiotti Olme of Sweden women’s national soccer team in the third round game of Group F during the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 in Paris, France

Strategic Considerations

When incorporating the long ball into our soccer strategy, three critical elements must be considered to maximize its effectiveness.

Analyzing the Opponent’s Formation

To exploit the long ball tactic effectively, I assess the opponent’s defensive setup. If they play a high defensive line, there’s more space behind them for my strikers to chase down long balls. Conversely, a deep-lying defense offers less room and requires different approaches. In my analysis, I look for patterns in their movement that could open opportunities for a well-timed long ball.

Weather and Field Conditions

The impact of weather and field quality on the long ball cannot be understated. On a wet day, the ball skids more, altering its trajectory and speed; I adjust my long passes accordingly. A dry, hard field might make the ball bounce unpredictably, calling for lower, driven passes. I always take a moment before the game to inspect the field and consider these factors in our long ball strategy.

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Player Abilities and Roles

Identifying the right players for executing long balls is crucial. I consider both the technical ability to deliver precise long-range passes and the physical attributes needed to control and utilize these passes. For instance, my central defenders need the vision and skill to spot and send a long pass, while my strikers must have the pace and tactical awareness to exploit the space behind the opposition’s back line. It’s about matching the right skills with the right roles.

  • Defenders: Vision to identify pass opportunities; power and accuracy in delivery.
  • Midfielders: Spatial awareness to receive and redistribute or challenge second balls.
  • Strikers: Pace to outrun opposition; control to bring down aerial passes.

Training and Development

To excel in executing the long ball, I focus on specific training routines that combine physical, technical, and mental aspects of the game. This layered approach ensures I’m well-prepared to effectively use this technique during games.

Drills for Long Ball Proficiency

For developing my technique, I engage in a variety of exercises. One drill I frequently practice is the Stationary Long Ball Drill, where I repeatedly strike the ball to a target from a static position, focusing on the point of contact and follow-through.

  • Paired Distance Passing: Partnering with a teammate, we stand 30 yards apart, gradually increasing the distance as our comfort and accuracy improve.
  • Target Accuracy: I set up targets on the field and aim to hit them from varying distances to emulate in-game scenarios.

Physical Conditioning

  • Leg Strength: Squats and lunges are part of my weekly routine to build the muscle power necessary for long passes.
  • Core Stability: I incorporate exercises like planks and Russian twists to ensure that my core is strong and stable, providing a solid foundation for my technique.

Mental Preparation

I maintain a clear mental image of the field and potential plays, visualizing successful long balls before games.

  • Decision-Making: I often study game footage to recognize patterns and the perfect timing for a long ball.
  • Concentration Drills: I practice mindfulness and concentration exercises to stay focused during high-pressure moments.

Variations of Play

When I’m on the field, I’ve noticed that varying the type of long ball played can be crucial in breaking down defenses. Below are three specific variations of play I use:

Direct Long Balls

I prefer using direct long balls when I need to quickly transition from defense to attack. This straightforward approach sends the ball in a straight line to a forward player. It bypasses the midfield completely, which can be particularly useful against teams that press high or when I spot my striker in a favorable one-on-one situation.

Diagonal Long Balls

Alternatively, diagonal long balls have a different objective. I use this technique to stretch the opposition horizontally. Typically, I’ll target these balls from one flank to the opposite, finding wingers or fullbacks that have space to advance into. It’s a strategic move that can pull defenders out of position and open up lanes for my teammates.

Flighted versus Driven Passes

Choosing between a flighted or a driven pass depends on the scenario. A flighted ball, with its high arc, gives my forwards time to position themselves advantageously. In contrast, a driven pass remains closer to the ground and is faster, requiring precise timing and control to turn it into a goal-scoring opportunity. Both have their place in a game, and I use them based on what the moment demands.

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Game Situations

In soccer, the long ball isn’t just a technique; it’s a strategic choice. I’ll explore key moments during a game when a well-hit long ball can shift the dynamics in your team’s favor.

When to Use the Long Ball

I often look to use the long ball when I see a clear opportunity to transition from defense to attack, especially when the opposing team is pressing high and leaving space behind their defense. Another perfect moment is when I notice my forwards have a speed advantage over the opponents. I can catch them off guard with a quick long ball over the top.

Set Pieces and Dead Ball Scenarios

For corners and free-kicks, I like to have a variation prepared where I can target players who are strong aerially. For instance, instead of the usual cross into the box during a free-kick, hitting a long ball to the far post or into a space being run into by one of my teammates can catch the defense unprepared.

Adjustments During a Game

Reading the flow of the game is crucial for me. If I sense that the field is stretched, or the tempo of the opposition is starting to flag, I might choose to introduce a long ball strategy. This entails varying my passes, not just to clear the ball, but to pinpoint my forwards or wingers, turning defense into a counter-attack.

Impact

Historic Games and Long Ball Impact

Some games stand out in soccer history where the long ball played a pivotal role. For instance, in a UEFA Champions League game between Manchester United and Bayern Munich in 1999, United’s consistent use of long ball tactics during the dying minutes led to two goals that won them the title. Another notable example is Greece’s victory in Euro 2004, which was heavily dependent on their strategic use of the long ball to bypass the midfield, exploit space, and score crucial goals.

Teams Known for Long Ball Tactics

  • Stoke City under Tony Pulis: Pulis’ Stoke City became synonymous with long ball soccer, often using the height of forward Peter Crouch to their advantage.
  • Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers: Allardyce’s side was proficient in playing the long ball, using it to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm and create scoring opportunities for strikers like Kevin Davies.
Soccer Analyst and Publisher at Soccer Blade | Soccer Blade | + posts

Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.

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