Pull the Strings – Football Language: Euro 2020 – 1st Semis

This football language podcast looks back at the first semi final of Euro 2020 between Spain and Italy. We focus on the midfield battle with the phrase ‘pull the strings’. You can read a transcript for this podcast below, while you can also check out our glossary of footballing phrases here and visit our site to access all our previous posts and podcasts. If you have any suggestions or questions then you can contact us at admin@languagecaster.com. (DB=Damon)

Pull the Strings – Football Language: Euro 2020 – 1st Semi Final

DB: You’re listening to languagecaster.com’s football language Euro 2020 podcast. Hello there everyone, my name’s Damon, one half of the languagecaster team and today I’ll be talking about some football language connected with the first semi final of Euro 2020. What a fantastic game, first of all! congratulations to Italy, who go through after penalties – full-time ended 1-1 and extra time was a stalemate. And commiserations to Spain, who were probably the best team on the night, but experienced the heartbreak of losing a penalty shoot out.pull the strings

Spain certainly played brilliantly, as did Italy, and I want to kick off with the phrase ‘pull the strings‘.

Stinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (Italian).

Pull the Strings

DB: Yes you are listening to languagecaster and our football language podcast and that message was in Italian.

Embed from Getty Images

OK, to pull the strings: this means to control something. The strings are the strings of a puppet, a doll that moves according to how you pull its strings. This phrase is most often used to describe midfield players, as it is they who are usually in control of the ball. For Spain, a deep lying midfielder, like Busquest, or perhaps someone further forward, like Pedri, could pull the strings. And they did.

They dominated the ball and controlled the flow of the game – mostly. Spain had over 65% possession. This is how the Washington Post described Spain’s dominance: “With Barcelona phenomenon Pedri pulling the strings, the Spaniards knocked the ball around with ease, occasionally unlocking the Italy defense through smooth passing patterns.”

Another phrase similar to pull the strings is to run the game, and here is the Guardian on Pedri: “the brilliant 18-year-old midfielder who ran the game and completed 98% of his passes.”

Embed from Getty Images

Knock the Ball Around

DB: But let’s return to that Washington Post quote with Pedri pulling the strings, knocking the ball around with ease. To knock the ball around, is to pass the ball several times between players and in a relaxed way. If you knock the ball around, you are in control and the opposition cannot get close to you. It gives a nuance of calm and skill. Spain definitely showed both those qualities – calmness and skillfulness.

Another phrase, which is similar is to ping the ball around, to ping it around. This perhaps adds another layer of meaning, speed. To ping something is to hit it hard, like a bell being hit, or a ball being passed firmly from one player to another.

Held Their Nerve

DB: But even though Spain ran the game and their midfield pulled the strings, it was Italy who won. And this is where we would use the cliche ‘they held their nerve‘ or ‘nerves‘ in the penalty shootout. If you hold your nerve, you are calm in a stressful and tense situation. You are cool and rely on your skill. I think every single player was as nervous or as calm as the other, but often the winning team in a penalty shootout is praised for holding their nerve. And that is the headline that uefa.com chose for this game: “Italy 1-1 Spain (pens: 4-2): Azzurri hold nerve to reach EURO final.

So well done again Italy. Who will they meet in the final? England or Denmark? Let’s just hope it is another cracking game.

Stinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (in English).

Good Bye

DB: Yes, you are listening to languagecaster.com and that was in – English for a change! Right, that brings us to the end of this short football language podcast. We looked at describing a dominant midfield display with pull the strings, run the game, knock the ball around, ping the ball around, and finally discussed the cliche for penalties – held their nerve.

Drop us a line anytime at admin@languagecaster.com. Remember, you can read the transcript for the show by coming along to our website at languagecaster.com. Enjoy all the football. Ta-ra!

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Learn English Through Football

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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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  • What does “edge” mean in this context?

    Argentina reached the final with a tense shoot-out win over Colombia while Brazil narrowly edged Peru.

    • Hi Dwi,

      ‘to edge’ someone/a team means to beat them narrowly, so Brazil edged Peru, means Brazil just/narrowly beat Peru. See our posts in our glossary for edge out/past.


Euro 2020Episode 760