Look at this f%**$# pass!
Belgium beat Panama 3 – 0 on Monday in their World Cup match, and all of the goals for the Belgians were wonderful, but I want to take a moment to talk about the second goal, which was scored by Romelu Lukaku and assisted by Kevin De Bruyne.
Here: Let’s watch it.
#MundialTelemundo En voz de @CopanAlvarez ¡Así fue el segundo gol de #BEL! Gran remate de cabeza por parte de @RomeluLukaku9 quien aparece dentro del área tras un mágico pase de @DeBruyneKev pic.twitter.com/9B06SJDxsF
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) June 18, 2018
I have many feelings about this goal, and especially about this pass from De Bruyne. But feelings are hard to express, and if I tried to capture what my heart felt upon seeing this goal, I fear the writing would just devolve into sound effects and colors and descriptions of the first time I heard Les McCann and Eddie Harris’ Swiss Movement. So instead of feelings, let me share some thoughts on this goal instead.
1. This post is about the final pass, but let’s not discount how De Bruyne gets into the box. His open-the-hips-up-to-feign-a-far-post-shot-then-drag-the-ball move is one of the simplest, yet most devastating, in soccer. Look at how he waits for the Panamanian defender to leave his feet, then drags, knowing the defender is already too far gone to do anything about it. Now he’s in the box.
2. …but so are six Panama defenders. That’s a lot of bodies to deal with, and when De Bruyne moves past the ball, I was certain he was setting it up not for a pass, but for a shot. You can watch as he moves his hips and takes a few stutter steps to frame the ball to the back post. I, along with the Panama defenders I’m sure, thought he was setting up for a toe poke shot at the far post. I also thought it was going to be a shot because soccer players too often only have one thought once they get in the box: Uh, fuck, I should probably shoot. We’re conditioned by years of antsy screams on the sideline and impatient coaches and teammates. You get close, uh, you should probably just kick it at net.
3. That’s also a thought normal soccer players have because being inside the box is confusing. There are bodies everywhere, and defenders flying at you, and the crowd in the stadium is screaming. That’s why De Bruyne is not a normal soccer player. He’s in the thick of things, and there are six Panama defenders in front of him … and he saw Lukaku. I was watching a large high definition television and an elevated view, and I didn’t see Lukaku. I had no idea who De Bruyne was passing to when he kicked it. Then I saw it. He saw it before I did.
4. I’ll briefly mention the timing here, and the pressure, because not only do those six Panama defenders make it hard for De Bruyne to see, you also have to realize that De Bruyne has about a third of a second to take stock of his options, see the situation, and hit that ball. This isn’t a wide player having a moment to pick out the perfect cross. This isn’t a dead ball situation. This is live, and he’s in the box with a team that’s packing it in, and Panama defender Roman Torres about to step. He’s got no time.
5. Also, like, what the fuck part of his foot did De Bruyne use to kick this ball? It didn’t appear to be purely with the outside of his foot, but it also isn’t a toe ball, because he gets that outside spin on the ball. I think he used the outside of his toe to pass this ball, which like, sure man, you want to hit a ball inch-perfect through traffic with a surface of your foot that most coaches don’t bother to teach players to use. Do you.
6. So he’s facing down six defenders, as we’ve mentioned, and now that De Bruyne has kicked the ball, it still needs to navigate through everyone. Look at the ball’s flight. Look at where he has to play this ball.
That pass just glides along the back line, simultaneously beating six defenders, traveling in an alley about a yard wide. Lukaku has to take about two steps and the ball hits him in the forehead. I mean, all credit to him for the finish, but when the placement is that good, how much do you really need to do?
7. So now that De Bruyne has beaten his man, navigated traffic, seen through six defenders, handled the pressure, and used the outside of his toe to kick the ball, he still had to weight the thing. Too hard and it’s gone, too soft and it’s intercepted. So sure, of course, under all those circumstances, after everything, he puts just enough on it for it to run into Lukaku’s head and into the goal. That pass could not have been better. There was no better thing for him to do with the soccer ball in that situation. It’s like that Infinity War bit: De Bruyne saw 15 million things he could possibly do with the soccer ball in that situation, and he did the right one.
And for everyone shouting that Lukaku was offside, shut it. He wasn’t. And you’re missing the point. De Bruyne made art. That’s what matters.
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