Soccer sweepers (or stoppers) are team members who provide the last line of defense between the back-line of defenders and the goalkeeper of the opposing team. Guarding the team's penalty box, the sweeper is responsible for turning back any opposition which may slip through the defensive lines. It is not uncommon to find the captain of a team doubling as the sweeper or stopper.
According to ExpertFootball.com, the sweeper roams behind the line of defenders and in front of the goalie. The sweeper must also be wary of drifting out too much on the flanks. The ideal position is at the head of his teams' penalty area. A sweeper is not required to "mark" or defend against any particular opposition player. Therefore, he may be used to offer support once his team is on the offensive (or the "attack") without having to worry about missing a defensive task.
The term "sweeper" comes from the position's purpose of "sweeping up," making sure the direct area in front of the goal is clean. Any breach of the defensive line must be expertly handled by the sweepers. Sweepers are also the linking players between the defenders and the midfielders, and may offer support to the forwards in the attack. The sweepers must also be able to bring the ball out of defensive positions and start counter attacks.
A soccer sweeper needs an array of qualities in order to be successful. Reading the game is vital for a sweeper, as he should be able to anticipate the play and players, and the climax of play from the opposition. Successful sweepers also excel at ball control, as they bring the ball out of defense and into attack. Upon starting the attacks, the sweepers must possess the ability to pass accurately to ensure that their team keeps control of the ball.
History and Evolution
The sweeper position was popularized by German soccer marvel Franz Beckenbauer during the 1970s. During the 1990 World Cup, Brazil's national team used a sweeper and was criticized by legendary Brazilian, Pele, for its defensive focus. Brazil would be eliminated from the tournament while Germany, who had popularized the position, would go on to win. The position is seldom used today, as the players and positions have evolved, eliminating the need for a sweeper. Continental European teams still occasionally use a sweeper, while British teams rarely do.
Franz Beckenbauer, also known as "der Kaiser," is credited with inventing the position of sweeper. Beckenbauer led the German team to World Cup glory in 1974. Franco Baresi of Italy was also a master of the position, and his defensive prowess led Italy to the final game of the World Cup in 1994, during which Italy lost on penalty kicks. Ronald Koeman of the Netherlands epitomized the position with his strong foot, which helped drive counter attacks from the defensive positions. Koeman played in the World Cup in both 1990 and 1994, and though his team didn't win either championship, he did achieve a plethora of success with his club team, Barcelona.
- Photo Credit soccer player with ball attacking hand sketched image by patrimonio designs from Fotolia.com
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