Main Listening Report: The Language of Setting up Goals

Setting up Goals

Last week, we looked at the language of scoring goals and this week we focus on how to describe setting up the goal. We use two articles from the respected Guardian newspaper in the UK and focus on two of last week’s big games in Europe – Barcelona v Milan and Inter v Tottenham. You can listen to the report by clicking on the link below, while vocabulary support (in bold) appears at the foot of the report.

The language of Setting up Goals

Let’s start with the amazing game at the Camp Nou, in which Barcelona put four goals past AC Milan.

The first was scored by Messi. This is how the build up was described: “Xavi’s pass was hit into Messi, hard and low. He took one touch to control and then, with no back-lift, almost just with a flick of the ankle, he sent the ball flying into the corner.” (Guardian 12 March 2013). The writer uses the verb ‘hit’ to describe the pass. This verb is often followed by an adjective phrase, such as low and hard or over the top. Here, it is followed by ‘into Messi’ – hit into Messi – meaning the pass was strong, direct and aimed at the teammate.

The second goal soon followed: “Iniesta robbed Massimo Ambrosini to supply Messi, who cut back and struck the ball hard and low through the legs of Philippe Mexès.” There are two interesting verbs here: the first is ‘robbed’, meaning to take the ball off an opponent, to dispossess the opponent – there is a feeling with ‘robbed’ that getting the ball was a surprise, that it was cheekily done. The second interesting phrase is ‘to supply’, meaning to give, so Iniesta robbed Ambrosini and supplied Messi – he took the ball off Ambrosini and passed it to Messi.

The last description we will look at from this game is this: “Mascherano reacted quickly to cut out a dangerous ball forward and find Iniesta, and then it went to Xavi, to David Villa. The striker took two touches…to curl in perfectly with his left.” Again the build up to the goal is described first by how the ball was won in midfield – in this case, Mascherano cut out the ball, he intercepted a pass from Milan. Whereas ‘robbed’ describes getting the ball by a tackle, ‘cut out’ shows a player’s awareness of where a pass will come. After he got the ball, Mascherano then ‘finds’ Iniesta. Last week, we saw how the verb ‘to find’ is used to describe a goal, as in ‘to find the net’, here it used to mean an accurate pass, often between two or three defenders. The move is then finished simply with the verb ‘to go’ – it went to Xavi, (and went) to Villa.

In the second game, Inter vs Tottenham (Guardian, March 15 2013), Inter’s first goal is described this way: “A simple pass inside Vertonghen by the right-back, Jonathan, found Palacio in space. His cross picked out Cassano unmarked at the back post and he headed the ball down on to the turf and up into the top corner.” There are two phrases useful for talking about goals here. The first is ‘a pass inside the defender’, which is a pass that the defender cannot cut out, cannot stop and goes behind them and usually into the box. The second phrase is ‘to pick out’ – similar to ‘to find’, but perhaps with more of a feeling of accuracy.

Finally is this description: “Cambiasso played a sweet pass inside Kyle Walker to Palacio. His finish, low past Friedel, was never in doubt.” Again, we have a ‘pass inside’, but while the previous description used the adjective ‘simple’, here the writer uses ‘sweet’ – a sweet pass inside – to show that it was a very clever pass, a difficult one that was executed perfectly.

So we have the verbs ‘to hit’, ‘to find’, ‘to pick out’, and ‘to supply’ to describe the pass, and the verbs ‘to rob’ and ‘to cut out’ to talk about getting the ball from the opposition. Then a particular kind of pass – a pass inside, which is a pass that takes out the defender. The language of setting up goals.

Vocabulary support

(the) build up: the action before a goal, the passes and tackles etc. that lead up to the goal

over the top: over the defensive line; also a bad tackle with the foot going over the ball directly onto the leg of the opposition

(to) win the ball: to get the ball in a tackle; to take the ball off an opponent

(the) turf: the grass; the pitch; the ground

the box: the area in front of the goal where the goalkeeper is allowed the handle the ball

Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here If you have any suggestions, contact us at

Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

I was born and brought up near Chester in the north west of England. I have always loved playing and talking about sport, especially football!
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  • Does “hard” in the sentence “Xavi’s pass was hit into Messi, hard and low.” mean “strong pass” or “Xavi passes into Messi from a very close distance” ?

    • Hi miniuzi123,
      I think the adjective ‘hard’ refers to the pass that Xavi gave which here means he struck (hit) the ball with power.

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