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The upside down kick

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The upside down kick

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On Sunday, Italy lost 6-4 in the final of the World Beach Soccer Championship against Brazil, which won the sixth title in its history since the competition was organized by FIFA, the organization that governs world football, that is, since 2005. It is the third time that the Italian national team, coached since 2018 by former beach soccer player Emiliano Del Duca, has reached the final of the World Cup: it is still a very positive result, which follows on from the European Championship won last September at home in Alghero, Sardinia.

Two of the six goals scored by Brazil in the final were scored with an overhead kick, a technical gesture which in grass football is rare and extemporaneous, considered an absolute exceptionality, while in beach soccer, on the sand, it is usually part of the game: at a point which is protected and encouraged by the regulation. The overhead kick is a volley done with your back to the goal, first lifting one foot off the ground and then hitting the ball with the other (this is why in English it is called overhead kick or bicycle kick, because the player’s legs imitate the movement of pedaling a bicycle in the air). At the moment of impact with the ball in an overhead kick, a player’s body is usually completely detached from the ground: a fact which highlights its difficulty and which contributes to making the gesture spectacular for those watching. For the shot to be effective you need a mix of great coordination, football technique and athleticism.

In beach soccer, where the ball bounces in an unpredictable way due to the bumps formed by the sand, it is often played on the fly, that is, without letting the ball bounce, and the overhead kick is used both to shoot towards the opponent’s goal and, sometimes, to defense, to throw the ball away. It is such a common action that it is included in the basic statistics that are shown at the end of the match, together with the most usual ones also in grass football, such as the number of shots and ball possession. In the final between Italy and Brazil there were a total of 18 overhead kicks, 8 by Brazil and 10 by Italy, who did not score in this way but created the first goal from an overhead kick.

An overhead kick from Brazilian Datinha is headed by Italian Tommaso Fazzini (AP Photo/Christopher Pike)

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In all, in the recently concluded Beach Soccer World Cup, played in the United Arab Emirates, there were 38 overhead kick goals out of the 225 total goals scored in 32 matches: approximately one goal in six. The ability to perform tricks by landing on a softer surface is probably the thing that most of all makes beach soccer a spectacular sport to watch and fun to play (anyone who plays soccer on the beach, at any level, routinely tries volleys and overhead kicks that he wouldn’t dare on other terrains).

Beach soccer players can score a goal with an overhead kick, i.e. by kicking directly on the fly after a teammate’s pass, or, as happens more often, after having settled the ball with a stop on the chest or by lifting it purposely with dribbles on the fly , foot or thigh.

To especially favor this last type of action, the overhead kick is considered by the beach soccer regulations to be a protected action: that is, it means that the opponent cannot actively counter the player who, with his back to the goal, is controlling the ball and preparing to do an overhead kick. The only way to defend an overhead kick, once a player is dribbling from behind and preparing to execute it, is to intercept the shot. Coach Matteo Marrucci explained it well in a recent study of FIFA’s Technical Study Group, in which he analyzed the various ways of blocking an overhead kick. The main one consists in taking a step back while the opponent is coordinating and jumping with the right timing, usually turning on his back, trying to occupy as much space as possible with his body. For beach soccer, protecting the possibility of doing overhead kicks in the rules means preserving and enhancing one of its most characteristic plays, if not the most characteristic of all, to guarantee the spectacle.

An overhead kick by the Italian Alessandro Remedi defended from a distance by the Brazilian Catarino (AP Photo/Christopher Pike)

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In the quarter-finals against Tahiti, Italy overcame a two-goal deficit to win 5-2, also thanks to two spectacular overhead kick goals by Marco Giordani and Alessandro Remedi, while in the group match between Tahiti and Argentina (which ended 4-3) there was the maximum number of goals scored with overhead kicks: 4, of which 3 by Tahiti.

The striker of the Swiss national beach soccer team Dejan Stankovic, who has scored 47 goals in his career at the World Cup (he is the second best scorer ever in the competition), examined some of the overhead goals scored in the first two group days of this World Cup. According to Stankovic, the most difficult, and therefore rather rare, overhead kicks are those in which the player, instead of lifting the leg over the corresponding shoulder (for example the right leg over the right shoulder), brings the leg over the opposite shoulder, making a sort of of acrobatic contortion to hit the ball: it is a technique that makes the overhead kick even more complicated for the opponents to defend, because it is more difficult to predict its direction.

The recently concluded edition of the World Championship was originally supposed to be held in 2023 (the beach soccer World Cup takes place every two years, in odd-numbered years), but was postponed to February 2024 due to some organizational delays. The next edition, the 13th organized by FIFA, will be held from 1 to 11 May 2025 in the Seychelles, an African island state in the Indian Ocean. It will be the first time that the Beach Soccer World Cup will be played in Africa. Italy has hosted the World Cup once, in 2011, and has come second three times: in 2008, 2019 and 2024.

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