The sports arena can be tricky for the language learner because a lot of colloquial language is used by its participants.


Here are seven frequently used English phrasal verbs from football and other sports that will help you communicate with greater confidence.


1. Push on 


To continue on a journey;




- Manager (after a game): There’s still a long way to go this season so we’ll take the positives from tonight’s performance and push on.


- We’d better push on if we want to get home before dark.

2. Give in 


To stop competing and accept that you cannot win. When preceded by ‘never’ or ‘not’, this phrasal verb describes the fighting spirit, resilience and belief needed by professional footballers;




- “Never give in” Winston Churchill.


- Although they were losing 4-0 at half time, they didn’t give in and came back to draw the game.

3. Let (somebody) down 


To disappoint another person by not keeping a promise or failing to meet expectations;




- Post-match player interview: Even though we lost, we hope we didn’t let the fans down.


- He’s so unreliable - his words mean nothing because he always lets me down!

4. Step up 


[Originally borrowed from baseball - “to step up to the plate”] For an individual or group to take action in response to an opportunity or crisis;




- The emergency services stepped up their response effort to help the victims of the earthquake.


- He’s the captain because when the team needs him, he always steps up.

5. Get through 


To pass or succeed in a difficult or challenging situation;




- Japan got through because they received fewer yellow cards than Senegal.


- The family have suffered terribly during her illness, but they’ll get through it.

6. Take (somebody) on 


To fight or compete against an opponent. In football, it can describe a situation where one player attempts to dribble the ball past their opponent, but it can also describe a scheduled match (a.k.a ‘fixture’);




- She took the fullback on and got around her with a lovely piece of skill.


- England take on Colombia on the 3rd of July.



7. Knock out 


[Originally from boxing] It describes the action of a boxer who defeats their opponent by hitting them to the floor. In the world cup, it describes the action of eliminating an opponent from the tournament;




- Iran missed a great chance to knock Portugal out in their final group game.


- Dave’s in the hospital. He got in a fight in the pub and was knocked out.

Replace the underlined verbs with one of the phrasal verbs:


(Answer key is at the bottom)


One of the biggest surprises has come from South Korea who defeated Germany 2-0, thus enabling Sweden and Mexico to eliminate the current champions from the group stages.


Lionel Messi was under immense pressure in Argentina’s 3rd game but when a chance came, he took responsibility with a piece of brilliant skill to score a vital goal. However, the Argentinian team have looked disconnected at times so it is vital that they continue to work hard in order to continue their journey in this tournament.


Brazil are competing against Mexico in the next round, with both teams trying not to disappoint their tens of thousands of fans who have travelled to Russia. The Brazilians will want a strong performance to erase the memory of their last competitive knockout match in the world cup four years ago, when they appeared to accept defeat during a humiliating 7-1 loss against Germany.


Harry Kane, with five goals so far, leads Cristiano Ronaldo and Romulu Lukako, both with four goals, in the race for the golden boot, so it will be fascinating to see which nations pass this round.




Push on your language learning journey with Tom!




Answer key:


1. knock out   2. stepped up    3. push on   4. taking on

5. let down    6. give in   7. get through


Hero Image by Fauzan Saari from Unsplash