Roberto Carlos and the Most Powerful Free-Kick Takers in World Football History

Christopher AtkinsContributor IJanuary 30, 2013

Roberto Carlos and the Most Powerful Free-Kick Takers in World Football History

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    It is a technique that has been around for decades, but very few have truly mastered it.

    The ability to keep your shot on target, while also striking the stationary ball with as much power as your body can muster can be a deadly but highly unpredictable skill.

    Dip and swerve can add to the strike's effectiveness, but we are dealing with players who succeed primarily due to the brute force with which their leg is able to propel the ball goal-bound.

    Brazil's Roberto Carlos is perhaps the player most famed for his cannon-like set-piece taking in recent years, but there have been many others worldwide.

    So, let's have a look at six of the most powerful, if not most effective, strikers of a free-kick in football history.

Ronald Koeman

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    Former Netherlands defender Ronald Koeman was famed for his long-range shooting throughout his career, both from free-kicks and open play.

    In England, Koeman is best known for ending the reign of Graham Taylor as national team manager with a goalscoring performance to deny the Three Lions qualification to the 1994 World Cup.

    His career highlight, though, came two years previous.

    Playing for Barcelona against Italian side Sampdoria in the 1991-92 Champions League final, Koeman was given an opportunity to fire a 25-yard free-kick at goal with the game deep into extra-time.

    Fire at goal he did, with his rocket of a shot avoiding the wall and flying past the stranded Gianluca Pagliuca to seal the trophy for the Catalan side.

    It was a career-defining moment for a wonderful free-kick taker.

Eder

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    Known as "O Canhao" or "the cannon" for his remarkably powerful left-foot, Eder was one of Brazil's best players at the 1982 World Cup—as part of a side held in high esteem to this day.

    Ray Wilkins felt the full force of the left winger's powerful shot during a 1981 friendly at Wembley, but it was a free-kick against Argentina at the 1982 World Cup that is his most famous (see video).

    Brazil would ultimately suffer a shock exit from the second-round group stage, but not before claiming victory over fierce rivals Argentina.

    In the 11th minute, Eder struck a rocket of a free-kick against the crossbar, which may have crossed the line itself, before being turned home by Zico to lay the platform for what would be a fine and memorable victory over the Albiceleste.

Roberto Carlos

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    Without doubt the most famous of our powerful free-kick takers, Roberto Carlos is just one of a many Brazilian players to have developed a rocket-like shot from set-piece opportunities.

    It was at the 1997 Tournoi de France that the then-Real Madrid defender shot to prominence as a free-kick striker, scoring one of the most remarkable goals of all-time.

    With the ball's trajectory starting well outside of Fabien Barthez' left upright, Carlos' long-range strike swerved sharply in the final stages of its path towards the goal line, clipping the inside of the post as it nestled into the back of the net.

    It was a shot that would shape the player's reputation as a free-kick taker for the rest of his career, despite a poor overall record.

    At the 2002 World Cup, he would go on to notch another stunning effort in a victory over China in the group stage, but it was the effort at Le Tournoi that would forever be his defining free-kick.

John Arne Riise

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    Another left-footer and another fearsome striker of a free-kick, Norwegian John Arne Riise quickly established a reputation for his thunderous ball-striking upon joining Premier League giants Liverpool in 2001.

    Within months of his arrival, he had won over the Anfield faithful with a glorious strike against Manchester United (see video) that left a helpless Fabien Barthez wondering what had just occurred.

    Riise's sheer brute force would make an impact against Manchester United once more in February 2006, as a powerfully struck free-kick was charged down by opposition midfielder Alan Smith.

    The force and angle of impact would leave Smith lying on the pitch in agony, with his leg broken.

    Described by Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson as "one of the worst [injuries] I've seen," the break would keep Smith out for the best part of a year and would be a turning point in his Old Trafford career.

    Riise, who has since played for both Roma and Fulham, has failed to score since returning to the Premier League, but made a significant impact from set-pieces in Italy.

Alex

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    Centre-back Alex has enjoyed a fine career in European football, earning a reputation as a rugged and powerful defender. He has, though, also made a sizable impact with his free-kick taking abilities.

    One of just two right-footed players on our list, Alex is another who has mastered the driven out-swinging technique that, if on target, is so difficult for goalkeepers to deal with.

    It was an ability that he became famed for while in Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven, while goals against Arsenal and Liverpool for Chelsea ensured that he became feared Europe-wide for his set-piece prowess.

    Now at PSG in France, the Parc des Princes faithful have also born witness to his striking of long-range efforts, with each effort causing much excitement from all but the poor few seated behind the goals.

Branco

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    Another left-footer and another Brazilian, 1994 World Cup winner Branco scored a famous 35-yard strike against Netherlands en-route to that success in the USA.

    It was a technique that saw him regularly contribute goals throughout his career and his use of the valve to propel the ball with greater intensity was later imitated by his successor Roberto Carlos.

    As with many of the other candidates on this list, Branco's free-kicks have also claimed their victims—most notably Scotland's Murdo MacLeod in the 1990 World Cup.

    The Scot was sent flying to the ground by the strike, which he has since admitted left him with little memory of the match and suffering headaches for weeks after the game—an indication of the immense power of Branco's free-kick striking.