A look at 10 of the best free kick takers in the world.
1. Juninho Pernambucano (Vasco da Gama)
The Brazilian wowed fans in France with a string of sublime free kicks for the best part of 10 years with Lyon. The veteran midfielder scored 44 times from free kicks during his time at the Stade Gerland. Such a contribution led to then Lyon director Bernard Lacombe, who played a key role in his signing, labeling Juninho "one of the most important players in the club's history". Juninho manages to get immense movement on the ball, and is also a specialist from long distance.
2. David Beckham (LA Galaxy)
The Englishman’s influence on the field may have waned in the latter years of his career, but he will maintain that ability to curl a free kick into the top corner for some time to come. Goalkeepers often know where he is going to put the ball, but are powerless to stop it, such is the power and precision of the strike. Beckham made his name at Manchester United, before spells with Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and AC Milan.
The Portuguese attacker often strikes the ball on the valve to get more swerve and movement. Watch how many of his set-pieces get up and over the wall and before taking a downward trajectory and nestling underneath the crossbar. Ronaldo’s technique contrasts with that of most other players. Former Manchester United striker Mark Hughes observed in 2009: “He strikes down on the ball and lets the flight and pace do the rest through the air”.
4. Ronaldinho (Flamengo)
The Brazilian’s free-kicks are a thing of real beauty. The former Barcelona idol approaches the ball from the side in order to get extra curl. The result is often a shot that bypasses the wall and ends up in one of the top corners. It is not all about power, for Ronaldinho often caresses the ball over a wall to get the desired result. One of his most famous free-kicks came against England in the 2002 World Cup.
Another fine exponent of the dead ball, Sneijder says that hours spent on the training ground as a youngster honed his technique and made him the free kick taker he is today. The Dutchman claims he looks to aim the ball “between the second and the third man on the outside of the wall”. He checks the position of the keeper and the wind direction, before firing either through or over this part of the wall into one of the corners. Anyone who has seen his array of free kicks for Ajax, Real Madrid and Inter will testify that practice has certainly paid off.
6. Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
“All it takes is a little practice every day and you can improve your touch and accuracy no end,” says the former Milan 'fantasista'. Well, Pirlo must have put in his fair share of hours on the training ground because he has been one of the finest exponents of a free kick in Serie A over the last 10 years. Another master of the curled free kick, there are few better at getting a ball up and over a wall of players.
7. Juan Roman Riquelme (Boca Juniors)
Scorer of two very similar free kicks against Chile in a 2010 World Cup qualifier, the Argentinean revealed to uefa.com in 2007 how he makes the most of a dead ball situation. He identifies the spot when he wants to strike the ball, takes no more than three or four steps back, and almost always makes contact with the inside of his foot to get maximum curl. Riquelme stays behind at training two or three days a week to practice free kicks.
8. Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus)
His free kick prowess over the years has contributed to Del Piero becoming Juventus’ record goalscorer. Those set-pieces have also helped the Bianconeri to five titles. He has been hitting stunners since 1993, scoring a hat-trick on his first start for the club. A World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, Del Piero can curl the ball or hit it with power, as he did with one of his best free kicks against Inter Milan at the San Siro, also in 2006.
9. Roberto Carlos (Anzhi Makhachkala)
There are a number of old timers on this list and Carlos certainly falls into this category. His most famous free kick came against France at the Tournoi de France in 1997. Carlos’s free kick appeared as though it was going some way off target – watch the man behind the goal ducking – until it swerved back in and ended up inside Fabien Barthez’s near post. Where as most of these players tend to mix precision with power, Carlos puts most of his efforts into the latter, meaning that a fair percentage are off target. But when they are on, the goalkeeper has a problem.
10. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
The Liverpool captain often opts for sheer power to beat goalkeepers in set-piece situations. Just witness his effort against Newcastle at St James’ Park a few years ago. This means Gerrard is a good option when a free kick is from close range and it is difficult to bend the ball up and over the wall. Gerrard has hit several free kicks, that although not always in the corners, beat goalkeepers because of the speed at which they are traveling.