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10 Best Set-Piece Specialists in the World Right Now

Tom SunderlandFeatured Columnist IVDecember 29, 2016

10 Best Set-Piece Specialists in the World Right Now

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    Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

    There's no simpler method of scoring a goal in football than from a set piece, where the most direct route to the target is often the easiest.

    Throughout the years, the likes of Zico, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane have reigned from these flashes of dead-ball brilliance, but they have all washed their hands of a playing career.

    That being said, each generation has its assortment of set-piece geniuses, and the most beautiful thing about the free-kick is that one doesn't have to be a well-rounded superstar athlete to make the difference when all that's needed is a split second.

    Read on for a ranking of the world's current top 10 set-piece specialists, with free-kicks and corners bearing a particular significance in the rundown.

     

    All scoring statistics come courtesy of Transfermarkt.co.uk.

Honourable Mentions

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    Luis Suarez

    Luis Suarez is fast emerging as one of the deadliest forces in football from open play, but the Liverpool hitman shows almost as much promise when standing over a dead ball.

    The Uruguayan international's 30-yard thunderbolt curled around the base of Everton's wall during this season's 3-3 Merseyside derby draw stands out as a particular highlight. 

     

    Franck Ribery 

    Bayern Munich's return to European dominance over the last two years may have been a team effort, but Der FCB are nothing without their stars, and Franck Ribery is among the most valuable.

    Free-kick taking is something that the Frenchman has only started to perfect in the late 2000s. His biggest influence comes thanks to the ammunition he supplies off the wing, one of the main reasons behind his 2013 Ballon d'Or candidacy. 

     

    Juan Arango

    The words "traction engine" and "cannon" are often associated with Juan Arango's play—or, more specifically, his left foot.

    As he's capable of firing the ball in with power or whipping it around the tightest of margins, there's a reason why the Borussia Monchengladbach playmaker is noted as one of Venezuela's greatest ever exports. His set pieces are largely to thank.

10. Wesley Sneijder

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    Wesley Sneijder is a vintage commodity in this list, as the Dutch international has been posing a threat to opposition goalkeepers from outside the area for more than a decade at the top level now.

    From Ajax to Real Madrid to Inter and now Galatasaray, the attacking midfielder has always maintained a high value when the ball is static, whether it be with a shot on goal or putting it on a plate for those around him.

    Holland's veteran of more than 10 years has netted free-kicks in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy at the club level, but he has yet to grab a set-piece goal from his time in Istanbul.

    Thankfully for Sneijder, the 29-year-old continues to give Roberto Mancini's side superb service in a more supplemental role, but the competition of having Didier Drogba as another free-kick option at Gala is hurting his own chances.

9. Camilo Sanvezzo

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    Camilo Sanvezzo has been a prolific asset in Major League Soccer, netting a respectable 39 goals in 92 appearances for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

    And it's worth mentioning that roughly a fifth of those goals have come directly from a free-kick situation, showing how often the forward scores via this method.

    The Brazilian is skilled with both feet, hence his habit of cutting in onto his favoured right foot from the left wing, but his delivery from either corner flag is also of great benefit to his teammates.

    His swiping style of delivery all too often causes havoc in the opposition's penalty area, and if he can't make the necessary impact himself, the 25-year-old is capable of providing the means for his fellow attackers to do so.

8. Oleksandr Aliyev

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    Oleksandr Aliyev is a prime example of the notion that while a player may fall short in certain aspects of the game, anyone can come to the fore at the set piece.

    The Ukrainian attacker is nothing short of relentless when it comes to the use of his right foot, which is responsible for the stung palms of many a goalkeeper, not to mention the strained tensions of many a net.

    He is capable of powering the ball with satellite precision or clipping more delicate shots on target. Aliyev's accuracy with a free-kick has given the Dynamo Kiev player—on loan at Dnipro—some healthy plaudits throughout his career.

7. Xavi

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    If you learn one lesson from this list, it's that age has very little bearing when it comes to one's proficiency at the set piece.

    Xavi is now in his twilight at 33 years of age, but few would want anyone else standing on the edge of the penalty area in anticipation of a chipped, curled or blasted attempt at goal.

    The Spaniard is, however, more famed for taking a more delicate approach to his free-kicks in particular, and as is the case with the rest of his game, precision reigns above all else.

    In his career, he has claimed a staggering 175 assists from a little more than 750 appearances for both club and country, and although a great deal of those will have come from open play, one can bet that a decent portion have been sparked out of nothing.

    The veteran isn't famed for his scoring worth, but when he does register a goal, there's a great chance that it's from a free-kick.

6. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    "Power" would most efficiently summarise Cristiano Ronaldo's approach when it comes to free-kicks. His puffed-out chest, broad-shouldered ritual is becoming an iconic part of his game.

    Mimicked by the masses, Ronaldo's style is a maximum-risk, maximum-reward take on matters, which can often leave Real Madrid's talisman looking slightly foolish. But when it pays off, it really pays off.

    This season has already seen the 2013 Ballon d'Or winner net twice from a dead-ball scenario. The 29-year-old has netted 38 free-kicks in total throughout his career.

    Ronaldo might have found himself higher on this list if he were more capable in the softer way of things, but his method can often be fairly one-dimensional, unlike others ranked above him.

    That being said, Carlo Ancelotti's star man is a master of his very particular trade.

5. Shunsuke Nakamura

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    At 35 years of age and now back in Japan's top flight after spending eight years of his career in Europe, Shunsuke Nakamura is giving fans just a little more to marvel at his set-piece brilliance.

    As something of a national treasure in his native country, the former Celtic fan favourite developed a reputation for his ability to not only score from free-kicks but deliver a reliable ball from just about anywhere in the opponent's half.

    The left-footed magician's tally of 26 career free-kicks isn't as strong as Ronaldo's haul, but there are circumstances that might affect one's consideration of the two, primarily the quality of players that each has starred alongside.

    Nakamura has built a career on his ability to hit a thumbtack from 25 yards, providing many fans with moments of sheer majesty.

4. Sejad Salihovic

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    Hoffenheim got their hands on Sejad Salihovic's left foot (and the rest of him) back in 2006, and the Bundesliga outfit hasn't looked back since.

    In the last eight seasons, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international has scored just eight times from open play, an average of just once per season.

    Meanwhile, his tally from a static situation has soared astronomically in comparison, with Salihovic netting 17 free-kicks and almost twice that number in penalties (32).

    When given the slightest inkling of space, little can stop the midfielder from finding some route to his target, be it hard-driven or sly.

3. Juninho Pernambucano

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    Right up there with Zico and Carlos when it comes to picking out some of Brazil's best free-kick takers, Juninho Pernambucano can adapt to each dead-ball demand as it comes, which is what sets him apart from the rest.

    Living more on legacy than anything else now, the 38-year-old is back with Vasco da Gama for a third stint, but he continues to pump the ball home from the most remotely threatening positions on the park.

    That being said, the seasoned South American's influence has had to become all the more potent, thanks to his declining usefulness in open play, with corner delivery and ammunition still at an all-time high.

2. Andrea Pirlo

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    Among the talents that Milan lost when they chose to release Andrea Pirlo as a bosman in 2011 was his value from the edge of the area.

    It's bad enough that the Juventus wonder is such a calculated risk with opponents bearing down on him—never mind when he's got all the time in the world to collect his thoughts.

    Pirlo's presence from 20 yards is perfectly significant of his style of play, which takes the easiest route above all else and does not bother with the frivolities that others might.

    This season, the Italian international has scored three times, all of which have come from a free-kick. The value of a set piece in Serie A ensures that the midfielder will be of major use when it comes to setting others up.

    Pirlo has scored 75 goals in his career for both club and country, with more than a quarter of those (21) coming via free-kick.

1. Ronaldinho

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    It may be slightly cliche at this stage of his career, but after slipping out of the limelight for several years, Ronaldinho has once again established himself as king of the set piece.

    Since moving back to his native Brazil with the likes of Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro, the 33-year-old has surged back into public thought, netting in clutch occasions such as the FIFA Club World Cup and Brasileiro Serie A.

    After such a long and illustrious career, no one doubts the veteran trickster's ability to hold his nerves when the stakes are at their highest, and this reliability makes him supreme above all competitors.

    Ronaldinho made the method of hitting the ball under a jumping wall famous, but the former Barcelona and Milan attacker is of course most fondly known for his expertly whipped efforts.

    In a career dating back to 1998 in his days with Gremio, he has struck 35 free-kicks home and netted 54 penalties. That doesn't even mention the countless number of scores that he has set up from set-piece delivery, contributing to his assist tally of 129 for both club and country.

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