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Soccer Tactics – Defending Corner Kicks

Red uniformed player kicking a corner penalty kick.

Corner kicks are the most common attacking set play in soccer, creating a scoring opportunity each time. Therefore defending against corners properly is critical. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Zonal Defending
  2. Man Marking
  3. Mixed Zonal/Man Marking

Let’s review each tactic relative to it’s use, advantages, and disadvantages.

Zonal Defending

Defenders do not have a direct opponent, each one is responsible for a certain area in the penalty box. The defender has a full view of the area and is able to attack it generating enough momentum for a high jump and powerful clearance. This is a preferred method for teams with players who are strong in heading the ball. It ensures all dangerous spaces are covered.

Advantages are:

  • Players need to focus on the ball only, they are only responsible for balls entering their assigned space. They react to the flight of the ball.
  • Body fakes and deceptions of the attackers are not effective.
  • Most goals after corners are scored from a central position which is now covered by strong defenders.
  • There is little need for defenders to move with attackers, tucking shirts or holding and risking a penalty kick.


  • Attackers have more freedom to run into the ball, hence generating momentum and height of their own.
  • While defenders are responsible for a certain space, they may lose focus of the player(s) entering their space. If two players attack their space they have a decision to make.

Man Marking

Each defender is assigned to a particular opponent, regardless of the space the attacker occupies or is moving into. This is useful if the opponents have players who are stronger in heading the ball.


  • Attackers cannot run into spaces freely and have a harder time getting a strong header on goal.
  • Each defender has an assignment and there is no confusion about who is responsible for a certain area.
  • Defenders cannot shift responsibility for action to a team mate.


  • Defenders need to keep an eye on their attacker and the ball, they may be distracted and miss the key moment for action.
  • The defender reacts to the attacker’s movement and has the mental as well as a slight timing advantage.
  • Attackers can use body fakes and create open spaces and unhindered headers.
  • The risk for a defender to commit a foul is higher.

Mixed Zone/Man Marking

Here defenders line up along the 6 yd box and near the goal line between the goal post and the side line (to defend low crosses to near post). Two or three defenders man mark the most dangerous attackers and prevent their free runs to powerful headers. This is an effective tactic for teams that are well trained, know each other, and are coordinated as a unit. It takes a lot of practice.

The advantages are a combination of pure zonal and man marking techniques. The disadvantage is that the opponents’ strongest headers must be identified and assigned to the strongest defenders. There is room for confusion, particularly if the opponent does the unexpected.

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