Tunnel ball: wide-pass decoy-runner

Here’s how to practise the commonly used “tunnel ball” play to break outside the defence by holding defenders with decoy runners and threading the ball between them.

Tunnel ball is a term used to describe a wide pass that goes in front of one player and behind another to a third attacker.

This creates the analogy of the ball being passed through the two decoy players, hence why it’s called “tunnel ball”. These type of passes give the pass receiver an opportunity to break on the outside of the defence.

It can be used from a set-piece strike, most often passing between the centres to a winger or in phase-play shape using forwards as the decoy runners to a quick outside back loaded up behind the forwards.

It is often a better option than just passing the ball deep behind two decoys as it cuts down the time the defence has to adjust on the pass. The pass receiver is also flatter and closer to the defensive line putting the defence under more decision making pressure.


It is important the all players understand their roles in the attacking shape.

The passer (10 in the diagram above) can attack and carry the ball flat to the defensive line. At the line, to make the weight transfer of the pass easier, the passer can drift on a 45 degree angle to open up his body and shoulders to release the pass. Changing his running line towards the third defender (D3 in the diagram) also forces the defence to make decisions on whether to turn in and defend the 10 or stay on the attackers running on the outside.

The first runner (R1 in the diagram, where the ball goes in front) needs to engage the defence with his body language, having hands up ready to catch and calling for the ball, but it is vitally important not to get too flat on the passer (10) to open up a gap to pass through.

The second runner (R2) needs to start in line with the other decoy and use a change in his running line to help open up the passing gap. Starting outside the defender the decoy (R2) runs straight with engaging body language, and as the ball is passed, changes his running line back towards the ball, creating an angle and space for the pass to be thrown, whilst forcing the defence to react and hinge in to mark the run.

The receiver (A) behind the decoys needs to stay hidden behind the second runner (R1) for as long as possible and trust that the gap will open up and the pass will reach its target. If the receiver gets outside the second runner (R2) too early the defence can react and jump off one threat to another and snuff out any pressure.


The activity sets up the simple shape and allows the attackers to react to the defence with all passing options available. Adapt the drill with a different number of defenders.

Start with just four so to always create space on the outside to execute the tunnel ball.

Then add in an extra defender, forcing the attack to make correct decisions, reacting to how the defence defends the play.

Add in an extra layer of defence in behind to practise attacking and defending line breaks when they occur in the activity.

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