Power Ranking the Most Dangerous Free-Kick Takers in Football
Everybody loves a good goal from a set piece. Whether they are smashed past a shell-shocked keeper given no time to move, or whether they are delicately twisted into the corner of the net, free-kicks represent an opportunity to demonstrate the artistry and self-expression that makes football such a universally adored sport.
Some players are known primarily for their talents with the dead ball. Others take the skills that make them so dangerous in open play and reproduce them when the game is broken up and static.
This list attempts to identify the players who strike most fear into the hearts of defenders and goalkeepers from free-kicks, and explain just why they deserve to be known as the best takers on the planet.
5. Francesco Lodi
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
The Genoa midfielder may seem like a surprise name on this list amid so many world-renowned stars, but the statistics do not lie. Few are better at hitting the target from set pieces than the 29-year-old former Italy youth international.
According to data compiled by Who Scored, Lodi had one of the best conversion rates of any player during 2012/13 in Europe. The player netted five goals, placing him alongside Andrea Pirlo at the summit of free-kick scorers in the continent's top leagues.
However, the Juventus man's goals came from 37 attempts, while his compatriot's came from 30. That means 16.7 percent of Lodi's efforts hit the net. More impressively, a full 50 percent of his set pieces hit the target, marking him out as one of the most accurate takers in the world.
4. Lionel Messi
As befits his game, Messi is a delicate striker of the ball when it comes to free-kicks. He eschews brute force in favour of finding the goalkeeper's weak spot and spiralling towards goal—a technique that often provides excellent results.
Three Barcelona goals from 48 attempts puts him behind Cristiano Ronaldo for 2012/13, per the club's official website, but there is no doubt free-kick taking is something the Argentine wizard has worked tirelessly on over the past few seasons.
That number does not include gems like this beautiful effort against Paraguay for the Albiceleste, which helped the nation on their way to a place at Brazil 2014.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
At 49, nobody had more efforts from set pieces than Cristiano Ronaldo in 2012/13, according to Who Scored. He may not hit the target with every attempt, but when he does get it right, the Portuguese star is a force to be reckoned with.
His four goals from free-kicks in the past season put him just behind leaders Pirlo and Lodi in the European rankings, and few can put as much power on the ball as the Madrid machine when it comes to dead balls. A little more accuracy, and Cristiano would have a valid claim to be recognised as the very best in the world.
2. Andrea Pirlo
Every time the grizzled, bearded visage of Andrea Pirlo steps over a set piece, Juventus fans' hearts jump a little—as do those of the opposition, who know there is a good chance that the following play is about to end in heartbreak for their team.
With five goals from free-kicks in 2012/13 for Juve, per Who Scored, Pirlo is tied with Francesco Lodi as the most prolific taker in Europe's most prestigious leagues. He then followed up the season with an exquisite effort in the Confederations Cup, marking his 100th cap with a beauty to open the scoring against Mexico.
1. Juninho Pernambucano
The evergreen Brazilian may be 38, but he is still smashing in goals on an alarmingly regular basis from free-kicks. Now back at Vasco for a third spell, the ex-Lyon playmaker shows no sign of slowing down.
Juninho is capable not just of hitting the net with almost every kick, but of doing so with an incredible array of techniques. There is no one signature style—his efforts can go high or low, down the middle or into the corner, from short or deep, whether hit with brute force or delicately curled.
Goalkeepers never know what to expect when he approaches the ball, which is why even nearing his 40s, he remains the world's master free-kick taker.