10 Amazing Free-Kick Goals You Have to See
In football, the free-kick is rare in that, if it is awarded close enough to the goal, it can awaken dull games and change results, sometimes both in one sitting.
As long as there is a player on the pitch who has put in enough hours on the training ground bending the ball through a tyre suspended from the crossbar, once the ball is placed anywhere inside that invisible 30-yard arc around the box, anything can happen.
This is tribute to those players and the best results of their phenomenal ability, some have been selected for sheer audacity and others for technical brilliance.
Bear in mind when reading that there are only 10 available places, and putting together a definitive list would take months of trawling through archive footage from the Premier League to the Paraguayan fourth-tier regional leagues. In short, don’t be offended if your favourite isn’t there—just link to a video of it in the comments!
Despite the title, by the end of this list you’ll have realised that you had already seen most, if not all of the set pieces included. But that doesn’t matter—it won't hurt too much seeing them all again.
All stats are courtesy of TransferMarkt.
Luis Suarez, Uruguay vs. Spain, 2013
A very recent one to start with: Spain—as usual—had dominated possession and, now two goals ahead with the final whistle fast-approaching, looked to be cruising towards another comprehensive victory and clean sheet.
Having had barely a sniff of the ball all game, Suarez’s chance came when he was fouled about 30 yards from the Spanish goal—here was an opportunity to show that, even against the world’s best, he could still steal the headlines.
The way he wraps his foot around the ball and it veers away from the onrushing Iker Casillas is breath-taking, with the Spanish ’keeper rendered helpless by the pace alone. Sure, it may have taken a slight deflection off the wall, but the direction wasn’t affected and it would have most likely still have gone in, just slightly lower.
A reminder that even for the best 11 players, there isn’t much they can do about a well-struck free-kick.
Alvaro Recoba, Bologna vs. Inter Milan, 2003
Alvaro Recoba is not recognised as one of the footballing greats, but his shooting ability from long range was definitely up there.
Arriving at Inter Milan in 1997, the same summer as the Ronaldo, the Uruguayan had a tough fight ahead to get out of the shadow of Inter’s new poster boy. Over the next 11 years, despite not always playing at his top level, he established himself in Inter folklore, scoring 72 goals in 248 appearances.
It’s half technical brilliance, the rest an exhibition of the audacity that top players can display when on form; just look at the way the ball whips away and then back towards the left angle. Gabriel Batistuta drew what seemed to be a fairly soft foul, Recoba lined up the ball, and the rest, as they say, can be found on YouTube.
David Beckham, England vs. Greece, 2002
As has so often happened throughout history, England under-performed their way through the 2002 World Cup qualifiers and found themselves at an uncomfortable juncture—deep in stoppage-time, and a 30-yard free-kick being their only hope of automatic qualification.
Luckily for England, up stepped Golden Balls.
It probably isn’t the best free-kick of David Beckham’s career, either technically or by how good it looked, but don’t get me wrong—that isn’t an insult. Anyone who watched Beckham through his prime years will remember the seeming inevitability that a goal would result every time Becks stepped back to take his run-up.
Not sure why, but this is the one that will be remembered, as it not only put his country into the World Cup, but it was also the moment that—in England, at least—he went from the man who lost the World Cup (against Argentina in 1998) to the one who saved it. Sentimental as hell, but that’s how it is.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Manchester City vs. Middlesbrough, 2005
During his stints at Leeds United, Chelsea and Middlesbrough, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League. At all three clubs he boasted an impressive goals-to-games ratio, his most consistent time being at Leeds and Chelsea, collecting one goal every two games. Who knows, maybe at another team receiving better service, he might have got far more recognition than he did.
But that’s not important now. What’s important is this.
It’s almost a pile-driver, but he gets enough of the side of his foot for it be labelled as a very well controlled—albeit 230km/h—strike. David James had no chance, but he rarely does anyway.
Ronaldinho, Brazil vs. England, 2002
Ah, Ronaldinho. He dances on his own, you know.
He certainly got Brazil dancing in 2002, when he left one of the great English goalkeepers for dead in the Japan and South Korea World Cup.
The score was 2-1, with England having held the boys from Brazil against the odds relatively well. But what the English didn’t bank on was one of the stellar talents of the next 10 years choosing that day to announce himself.
After a typically late Paul Scholes foul, Ronaldinho placed the ball up while his teammates arranged themselves as though waiting for a cross…no such luck for David Seaman.
The stranded England No. 1 could only watch as the ball sailed over him into the far corner of net; no one was expecting it, perhaps not even Ronaldinho, and from his terrifically slow reaction, Seaman appeared to be the most surprised of all. He later said in an interview with the BBC that he would never live the moment down, though he shouldn’t feel that bad—hardly any of us could save a Ronaldinho free-kick, let alone a freak occurrence like that.
Jose Manuel Rey, Venezuela vs. Ecuador, 2007
This is one of those select few that just have to be seen to be believed. And even then, you may have to watch it twice.
When defending a free-kick that is just outside the centre-circle, it seems a bit daft, especially when the player taking it is a central defender, to set up a wall when the ball is clearly going to be knocked out wide or hit high into the box. Then again, it can’t have been that daft—in fact, the Ecuadorian players seemed to know exactly what was coming next.
And so they should have.
The taker was Venezuelan international Jose Manuel Rey, who in his 10-year stay with Caracas FC (1996-2002, 2006-2010) notched 42 goals in 173 appearances. Try comparing that with most other centre-backs, and it becomes apparent how cut-above Rey was when it came to set pieces.
In fact, there is only one other position that you would be more surprised to see a player score from…
Jose Luis Chilavert, Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield vs. River Plate, 1996
Not only is it almost entirely unheard of for a goalkeeper to be a regular goalscorer (we’ve all done those pitch-length dashes for a last-minute corner, it’s nothing special), but for said goalkeeper to pull off something this outrageous is nearly incomprehensible.
Did you see that? Now watch it again. Was it a fluke?
Who cares—it’ll never happen again, so don’t hurt yourself thinking about the logistics; just enjoy it until your tongue drops out onto the keyboard. And if that’s not enough, there are plenty more where it came from.
There’s really nothing else to say on the subject.
Neymar, Italy vs Brazil, 2013
I’ve really tried hard to keep out of the Neymar-philes corner, but…
On first glance, Neymar’s strike in the recent Confederations Cup match against Italy appears to be good, but not great. Good contact, good curve, good accuracy, and so on.
But when you look at Gianluigi Buffon, you can see that although he was positioned right under the flight of the ball, he barely moves, at least until it’s far too late.
Buffon is top quality, one of the best in the world. To not only beat him but leave him rooted to the spot takes a really special talent, which is exactly what Neymar is.
Upon first hearing about the diminutive Brazilian two or three years ago, I have to admit that a little scepticism crept in. Could this guy really justify the heaps of praise that he garners, not just in his own country, but from around the world?
There are many players who can do tricks and twists and tie defenders in knots, but what Neymar did was not just technically brilliant but also a demonstration of his psyche. He not only made a world-class ’keeper think he was putting it the other way, but he executed it so perfectly that Buffon didn’t see the ball until it was far too late, despite it practically hitting him in the face. And it takes some real cajones to even think about attempting something like that, especially against someone as well-rounded as the Italian stopper.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Arsenal vs Manchester United, 2009
It’s no secret that Ronaldo is one of the best current players in the world, if not the best, if not in history (the debate is open).
What is less well-known that the Real Madrid striker’s early years were more frustrating than fascinating, with a hard-to-shake selfishness and less-rounded skills seeming to be about to derail the young Manchester United player from reaching his full potential.
Fast-forward half a decade to 2009, and Ronaldo has matured into the early model of the player we know today. Champions League semi-final against Arsenal at the Emirates, already with one precious away goal on the night, and Ronaldo sums up how far he has come since leaving Sporting Lisbon in 2003.
Audacity in its prime—how dare Ronaldo try something like that at the Emirates, in the Champions League of all things. He notices Manuel Almunia is too far over on his line and punishes him like no other player can.
Roberto Carlos, France vs. Brazil, 1997
There couldn’t really be any other, could there…
What has gone down and will remain in history as the mother of all free-kicks, it’s fitting that Roberto Carlos’ wonder-strike against France was taken by the mother of all free-kick takers.
It’s a good 35 or 40 out, and the run-up that Carlos takes is bordering on ridiculous—he was practically in the centre-circle when he took off. It was for a reason, though; the power generated by the outside of his left boot was the only amount sufficient enough to result in what happened next.
The first camera angle doesn’t really show anything, but when you see the second, it blows you away. I’d like to see the protractor they used to measure that one with.
It happened the year before France took their revenge and schooled Brazil 3-0 in the World Cup final, and it was the last time that the Brazil of the 90s really played together, at least at their top level.
In that respect, although Carlos had a number of good years left with Real Madrid, it’s fitting that what may be the defining moment of his career coincided with the final coming-together of a great team before the temple crumbled.
Perhaps the greatest free-kick taker there ever was.