Explained: Why England are so good at set pieces at World Cup 2018

Harry Kane Gareth Southgate England World Cup 2018
The Three Lions have scored more goals from dead-ball situations than any other side this summer in the finals – how have they been so successful?

England booked their place in a World Cup semi-final for the first time since Italia '90 by seeing off Sweden 2-0 comfortably, thanks to an opening goal scored from a corner by Harry Maguire.

The Three Lions have been lucky with their successes with netting from dead-ball situations this summer, scoring just three out of their 11 total goals in open play.

Harry Kane has helped with their goal tally after converting all three penalties that England have been given, and it is the first instance since 1966 that England have scored more than 10 goals in a World Cup.

So how have England become so successful with their set piece goals? Goal takes a look.

How many goals have England scored from set pieces in the World Cup?

England have made the most from their set piece this summer in Russia, scoring eight of their 11 goals so far from dead balls. They are the side to have scored the most from such a situation, with Colombia, Uruguay, Portugal and Russia all have scored four set piece goals each.

Their eight goals scored through set pieces are also the most by a team at a World Cup tournament since Portugal in 1966  – which was also eight.

Maguire netted a header to open up the scoring against Sweden through a corner – their fourth scored in such a way. They have also scored three penalties, all converted by Kane, and scored one goal from a free kick.

The Tottenham star leads the Golden Boot race in Russia with six goals but has admittedly scored the most penalties. He admittedly should have been awarded two more goals in the win over Tunisia after being fouled harshly in the box, though the spot kicks were never given.

The three goals that they scored from open play were by Jesse Lingard against Panama, Dele Alli against Sweden and Kane against Panama once again (though his touch was lucky).

Additionally, seven of England's 10 corners have resulted in a shot on goal – either directly or through a flick-on, or from a spot kick.

Who is responsible for England's set-piece success?

Gareth Southgate Allan Russell England Sweden World Cup 2018

England's attacking coach Allan Russell has been credited with improving the side's approach to set piece-taking in Russia.

The Three Lions headed into the World Cup sporting a miserable track record with set pieces, having failed to score from a corner at a major international tournament since the 2010 finals in South Africa – where Matthew Upson headed home from Steven Gerrard's delivery to score in the 4-1 loss to Germany.

Southgate's side have evidently turned their failures with dead-ball situations and have thrived on them this summer. Their work in improving their penalty-taking duties has also showed, after they eliminated Colombia in the last 16 round through a shootout.

England were notorious with penalty shootouts after losing all three of the ones they had been involved in before 2018 (a record for a national team), but were able to discard of the 'curse' in their win against Colombia – where only Jordan Henderson missed from the spot.

Attacking coach Russell, 37, is a former journeyman striker at lower-league clubs based in Scotland and England, and is a UEFA A licence coach. He has been part of Southgate's backroom staff for around a year and uses his past experience at club duty witnessing positioning specialists given to players.

“We’d been spending a lot of time on set pieces,” Ruben Loftus-Cheek told reporters . “Right down to the details, all the runs and the blocks. To see it coming out on the pitch is great.”

Kane continued : “Allan does finishing sessions with us, tells us about opposition defenders, goalkeepers, and tells us maybe where we can exploit a weakness. 

“We are all top players, so he is not running through technique or telling us how to strike a ball. It’s just little stuff to maybe give us an edge. He does our attacking set plays, which are going pretty well so far, and we do a lot of work on it in training.

"Every little helps – particularly the little details at this level in a World Cup.”

Southgate also identified the set piece taking technique from American sports, particularly in the NFL and NBA to analyse how certain players exploit tight spaces.

Why have there been more set pieces this World Cup?

This summer's World Cup already has the most goals scored from set piece in history, with 66 from 59 matches. France 1998 is in second place, with 62 goals.

The introduction of VAR has had a massive effect on the tournament, as 24 penalties were awarded in the group stage - six more than the previous tally in an entire finals.

More penalties are being awarded with the help of VAR and referees are being more confident with directly punishing the slightest pulls or tugs in the box with direct penalties. They know that they will be supported through VAR replays that confirm a foul or a mis-timed challenge, and if they are wrong with their first instinct to award a penalty, the decision will simply be overturned.

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This leads to defenders being more careful in the box with VAR in mind, and that enables them to give more space for opposition players to score.

As seen with the England and Sweden game, teams become increasingly happier to simply sit back and play defensively the further they progress in the tournament which limits the chances of goals scored during open play.

They then become reliant on opportunities to score from dead-ball situations, which force them to be more inventive with their handling of corners and free kicks than what is usually expected.