Iceland lead revival of the long throw
By John Geddie
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - In an era when possession is king, launching a long throw into the penalty area has re-emerged as an unlikely but successful way of catching out defenders more used to teams trying to emulate Spain's high-tempo "tiki taka" passing game.
It is one of the weapons in the artillery of Iceland, creating two goals in their fairytale run to the quarter-finals and leaving opposition managers struggling to nullify its effects despite knowing what is coming.
Spain, on the other hand, who have dominated football over the last decade with the mesmerising pace and frequency of their interplay, are on the plane back to Madrid after a 2-0 loss to Italy in the last 16.
Done well, a long throw can have the pace of a cross -- low and with little arc -- to be flicked on to other attackers. Goalpoachers may even be able knock it straight in with the added advantage that there can be no offside from a throw.
Iceland are lucky to have a specialist in the long throw -- midfielder Aron Gunnarsson -- who said it was a technique he picked up playing a different sport.
"It's all down to the technique you develop playing handball. I played for years and that is where it comes from. People can have arms twice the size of mine but its all about the way you throw it," Gunnarsson said.
Leicester City, who shocked the world of football by winning the Premier League this year, also had a long-throw expert in Austrian defender Christian Fuchs. Former Stoke City midfielder Rory Delap was probably the best proponent in the modern era, able to reach distances of around 40 metres.
In theory, it should be easy enough to handle. The first defender must challenge for the initial header but ensure his team mates anticipate that he may lose it and track the other runners looking for the flick-on.
England coach Roy Hodgson identified Iceland's strength in this area after watching them score a goal from a long throw in their group stage win over Austria.
"These are things we will be aware of and will prepare for, he told reporters.
"They have already scored from a long throw-in, so that's a warning to us that if we don't do our homework and get our positional play correct and make the right challenges it will give them a chance to score again."
But within minutes of going ahead through an early penalty, England conceded from a Gunnarson throw. Iceland defender Kari Arnason rose above Wayne Rooney to flick the ball on to the back post where Ragnar Sigurdsson evaded a static Kyle Walker and tapped in.
England went on to lose the match 2-1 and Hodgson resigned.
France, who meet Iceland in the last eight on Sunday, will be hoping they can better deal with the throw-in which can be so deadly for those who have it in the locker.
Delap created so many goalscoring chances for his teams over the years, particularly during time spent at Stoke between 2007-2013, that there is a five-minute compilation of his best throws on Youtube.
One man who was not a fan, however, was Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger, who suggested scrapping throw-ins altogether in 2008.
"(The rule I would change would be) maybe to play throw-ins by foot. Why not? I think it would make the game quicker," said Wenger.
"For example at Stoke, for Rory Delap it is like kicking the ball. It is a little bit of an unfair advantage. He is using a strength that is usually not a strength in football."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)