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Dead ball brilliance

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The Expected Goals (xG) is a metric which measures the chances of a goal being scored from a particular situation. It estimates how hard a chance is and the probability of it being scored. The ratings are between 0 to 1; the lower the score, the harder the chance. And free kicks in football have an xG rating of 0.06. This means that out of every 17 free kicks taken, only one gets scored. It is why dead ball specialists or expert free-kick takers are always a joy to watch. Some of these free kicks are so insane that they are labelled as the ‘best free kicks in football history.

These goals have everything: the perfect pace, the perfect swerve, and the perfect placement. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the best free kicks in football history. 

Sinisa Mihajlovic vs Sampdoria, 1998

Perhaps one of the deadliest free kick takers of all time, Sinisa Mihjalovic was every keeper’s worst nightmare from a dead ball situation. The Serbian played most of his career in Serie A and scored one of the best free kicks in football history against Sampdoria. Mihajlovic was at his best in this match, scoring a hat-trick of free kicks in a single game. 

However, the pick of the lot was his final goal. With the goal more than 30 yards away, Mihajlovic produced a strong whipped free-kick that flew past a hapless Fabrizio Ferron. England’s former manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, who managed both Mihajlovic and David Beckham, when asked who he would pick for a free kick, chose the Serbian, which shows his quality. 

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Matt Le Tissier v Wimbledon, 1994 

Matt Le Tissier is one of the best set-piece takers of all time. He missed only one penalty during his entire career. In addition, Matt Le Tissier was also a brilliant free-kick taker, with one of his best coming against Wimbledon. 

Southampton had won a free kick more just outside the opposition’s box. And what followed next is history. The ball was passed to him, which he casually flicked up and produced a ferocious volley past the goalkeeper. It had it all- the perfect flick, the perfect volley, and the perfect placement.

Alvaro Recoba vs Bologna, 2003 

Alvaro Recoba is our second entrant from Serie A into the ‘best free kicks in football history’. The Uruguayan repeatedly produced magic moments that bewildered the opposition. One of Recoba’s brilliant capabilities was his dead ball prowess. 

In 2003, Bologna were the victim of Recoba’s genius as he produced one of the best free-kicks of all time. From more than 30 yards out, Recoba unleashed a powerful left-footer shot that had the perfect curve. The ball swerved and deflected the left post on its way to goal. A genuinely fantastic goal indeed. 

Lionel Messi vs Liverpool, 2019 

This goal is overshadowed by Liverpool’s incredible comeback two weeks later. However, make no mistakes; it’s right up there with the best. Liverpool travelled to Barcelona in the first leg of the 2018-19 Champions League semi-final. Barcelona were 2-0 up when, in the 81st minute, they earned a free kick. 

The distance from the goal was huge, and manning it was Alisson who was in prime form. Therefore, only a perfect free kick could result in a goal, and Messi delivered just that. His left foot rocket curled at the last moment to sneak past a full diving Alisson. 

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Juninho Pernambucano vs Bayern Munich, 2003

Juninho Pernambucano scored 77 goals through free kicks, the most by any player. The Brazilian was an expert when it came to dead balls. And one of his best came against German giants Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. 

Lyon earned a free kick more than 35 yards from Bayern Munich’s goal. However, it was not difficult for the Brazilian wizard, who produced a ferocious dipped shot that went past the goalkeeper. What made the goal brilliant was that it was scored against Oliver Kahn, the best goalkeeper at that time.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Portsmouth, 2008 

Cristiano Ronaldo has scored some brilliant free kicks throughout his career. However, none come close to his wonder strike against Portsmouth. In 2008, Manchester welcomed Portsmouth as they were involved in a close race with Chelsea. United needed a win, and Ronaldo rose to the occasion with two goals to his name. 

And the first is one of the best free kicks in football history. From 30 yards, Ronaldo unleashed such a powerful volley into the top right corner that keeper David James was rooted to his spot. United would earn three points. They would win the title later that season over Chelsea by two points.

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Mikael Nilsson vs PSV Eindhoven, 1993 

This was a free kick that was ahead of its time. It inspired several other brilliant knuckleball free kicks. In 1993 Swedish side IFK Goteborg faced PSV in the UEFA Champions League. It was an incredible achievement for the Swedes, and Mikael Nilsson ensured he scored a goal worthy of the occasion.

IFK Goteborg won a free kick 35 yards out of the goal. And Nilsson produced one of the best toe pokes of all time that had the perfect balance of speed, power and curve. Nothing like this had been witnessed before, making this a classic goal. The “Knuckleball” was popularised by Ronaldo, but Mikael can be credited with inventing it. 

David Beckham vs Greece, 2001

It’s one thing scoring a fantastic free kick, and it’s quite another to score when your country is facing a fight to qualify for the World Cup, and the match is in the dying minutes. Fortunately for England, David Beckham did just that. England faced Greece in the World Cup qualifying and needed a draw for automatic World Cup qualification. 

England were losing the match to Greece with only minutes remaining. However, David Beckham had other ideas as England won a free kick. The right-winger would then produce the perfect shot that went right into the top corner. England drew the match, qualified for the World Cup and David Beckham became a legend.

Mohd Faiz Subri vs Pahang, 2016 

There is Lionel Messi, there is Cristiano Ronaldo, there is David Beckham, and then there’s Mohd Faiz Subri. The Malaysian is the only player to win the FIFA Puskas Award by scoring a free kick. In a Malaysian League match between Penang and Pahang, Subri took a free kick from the extreme right of the box. The angle was impossible, and the ball needed the craziest of spin. Subri did just that.

The goal was nominated for the Puskas award and won it etching itself among the best free kicks in football history.

Roberto Carlos vs France, 1997 

Of course, it had to be on this list. Considered by many the best free kick in football history, Roberto Carlos conjured this beauty in 1997 against France. The team had won a free kick 40 yards outside the box. Up stepped Roberto Carlos, who put all the power of his left foot and produced a sweet, powerful, curved shot that defied the laws of physics. 

From the side angle, it looks like a regular goal. However, when seen from behind is when one can see Carlos’ brilliance. While the match would end in a draw, Roberto Carlos had etched his name in history.


*This article is sponsored by Sportsmint Media.

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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