World Football: Ranking the Top 25 Free-Kick Specialists on the Planet

James WillisAnalyst IApril 13, 2011

World Football: Ranking the Top 25 Free-Kick Specialists on the Planet

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    CARSON, CA - JUNE 03:  David Beckham #23 of the Los Angeles Galaxy applauds to the fans after their MLS match against D.C. United at The Home Depot Center on June 3, 2011 in Carson, California. United and the Galaxy played to a 0-0 draw.  (Photo by Victor
    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Free kicks can be just as dangerous as penalties when taken from the right position and when executed by someone with a talent at set pieces.

    For this reason, teams always like to make sure that they have at least one set piece specialist in their team, just in case the opportunity arises during a game to trouble the opposition's defence.

    There are many great free kick takers around the world, some better known than others, but when a player hits a free kick perfectly, there's nothing quite the same as watching it rattle the back of the net.

    So without further ado, here is a look at the top 25 set piece specialists in the world.

Honorable Mention: Rogerio Ceni

1 of 26

    Age: 38

    Club: Sao Paulo

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Position: Goalkeeper

    No, that's not a typo. Rogerio Ceni is a goalkeeper playing in the Brazilian Serie A for Sao Paulo, and he acts as one of the club's leading penalty and free kick takers.

    He's recognised by both FIFA and the IFFHS as the goalkeeper to score the most goals in the history of football, having hit over 100 goals in his long career, many of which were free kicks.

    He is also the first ever goalkeeper to have scored in a competition organised by FIFA.

    Even if he's not one of the best free kick takers on the planet, his remarkable record deserves a mention.

25. Mikel Arteta

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    Age: 29

    Club: Everton

    Nationality: Spanish

    Position: Midfielder

    The Everton midfielder has long been an important player for the Premier League side, and despite some fantastic performances he has never managed to win a cap for the Spanish national side, no doubt thanks to the strength of the nation's midfield.

    Arteta is Everton's main free kick taker, and for good reason. The Spanish midfielder is not only one of the best free kick takers in the Premier league, but also one of the best in the world.

24. Balazs Dzsudzsak

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    Age: 24

    Club: PSV Eindhoven

    Nationality: Hungarian

    Position: Left Winger

    There are probably many fans around the world who have not heard of Balazs Dzsudzsak, and he's admittedly not one of the biggest names in Europe.

    However when it comes to free kicks, Dszudzsak is a name that should quite often pop up. Arguably the best set piece player in the Dutch Eredivisie, the Hungarian has scored some stunning free kicks for PSV in the past.

23. Oscar Cardozo

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    Age: 27

    Club: Benfica

    Nationality: Paraguayan

    Position: Striker

    Cardozo has one of those names that fans have most likely heard of before, although many may not actually know too much about the player and his style.

    The 27-year-old has a great scoring record with Benfica, having played for the Portuguese club since 2007. Many of his goals have come from free kicks, making him deadly from set pieces.

22. Didier Drogba

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    Age: 33

    Club: Chelsea

    Nationality: Ivorian

    Position: Striker

    Arguably one of the finest African players of the recent generation, Didier Drogba is not only a great striker but also a very solid free kick taker.

    He regularly takes set piece duties for Chelsea and has scored some very entertaining free kicks in his career. He may not have been on his best for recently, but when he takes a free kick, you know it's going to be good.

21. Simao Sabrosa

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    Age: 31

    Club: Besiktas

    Nationality: Portuguese

    Position: Winger

    The flying Portuguese winger can also play as a striker for his club when he is needed to, but that isn't actually his greatest asset that he brings to the team.

    Simao is a particularly talented set piece specialist and can strike the ball perfectly from these situations, which usually makes for something special when Benfica win free kicks.

20. Diego

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    Age: 26

    Club: Wolfsburg

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Position: Attacking Midfielder

    Another hugely talented Brazilian midfielder, but this time particularly talented in his free kick taking. Diego is rated as one of the top free kick takers in the world and has been since his time with Porto, early in his career.

    The 26-year-old has since made his way through a number of European clubs including Werder Bremen, Juventus and now Wolfsburg, scoring numerous free kicks for all teams.

19. David Villa

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    Age: 29

    Club: Barcelona

    Nationality: Spanish

    Position: Striker

    His scoring record for the national Spanish team is already something to be admired, and his talents as a striker are very well recognised at both club and country level.

    That's not all that David Villa excels at though, as it seems he's also a very proficient free kick taker. In fact, in the game shown in the video clip, one of Inter Milan's defenders said after the game that Villa had "made us look like idiots, all on his own".

18. Andrea Pirlo

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    Age: 31

    Club: AC Milan

    Nationality: Italian

    Position: Midfielder

    Commonly known by fans by his nickname "l'architetto", which means the architect, because of his passing ability to set up chances for the strikers. However, sometimes, the player does not need to be an architect and instead he's the finisher.

    As the video shows, there are time's when Pirlo takes on a whole new role for AC Milan and punishes the opposition defence himself by whipping in cruel free kicks.

17. Robin Van Persie

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    Age: 27

    Club: Arsenal

    Nationality: Dutch

    Position: Striker

    Robin Van Persie could possibly be one of the very best strikers in the world were he not so injury prone, but having to battle back from problems on such a regular basis often stops him from reaching his fullest potential.

    One aspect of his game that does not usually require top fitness though is his free kick taking, which is very special indeed. As Arsenal's primary free kick taker, Van Persie can still score regularly enough, even when battling back from injury. 

16. Wesley Sneijder

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    Age: 26

    Club: Inter Milan

    Nationality: Dutch

    Position: Attacking Midfielder

    Better known for his ability as a playmaker, helping Inter Milan to their 2010 treble, Wesley Sneijder has proven that he can also take a mean free kick when given the opportunity.

    It is Sneijder's perfectly accurate placement that troubles goalkeepers so much, and he has proven himself as a dead ball specialist time and time again for both club and country.

15. Dani Alves

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    Age: 27

    Club: Barcelona

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Position: Right Back

    Dani Alves could be described as a player much in the mould of Roberto Carlos, at least in terms of style. The attack-minded full back is a regular free kick taker for both Barcelona and Brazil, and it seems that there is good reasoning as to why.

    The 27-year-old is actually the most expensive defender in the world to date, which is no doubt because of his ability to both attack and defend to a very high standard.

14. Juan Roman Riquelme

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    Age: 32

    Club: Boca Juniors

    Nationality: Argentinian

    Position: Midfielder

    Many people will remember Riquelme best for his time with Villareal between 2003 and 2007, where he was considered by a lot of fans to be one of the finest midfielders on the world.

    One of his main talents during his time was his top class free kick taking, giving Villareal a dangerous edge from set pieces. His ability to dictate the speeds of a game was also well noted and made him a very valuable player for the club to have.

13. Keisuke Honda

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    Age: 24

    Club: CSKA Moscow

    Nationality: Japanese

    Position: Midfielder

    Having only ever played for Nagoya Grampus Eight, VVV-Venlo and CSKA Moscow, many football fans did not know too much about Keisuke Honda before the 2010 World Cup.

    However, he proved to everyone that he was at least a very talented free kick taker that tournament, hitting two very impressive goals. Since then his club form has also been very good, and he has remained as the main free kick taker for CSKA Moscow since.

12. Shunsuke Nakamura

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    Age: 32

    Club: Yokohama F. Marinos

    Nationality: Japanese

    Position: Midfielder

    Another very talented Japanese set piece artist, Shunsuke Nakamura is perhaps best known for his time with Celtic.

    Having also played in Europe for Reggina and Espanyol, Nakamura quickly grew a reputation as a very dangerous free kick taker having caused trouble for many top goalkeepers. Now back in Japan, Nakamura's overall game has arguably slowed down with age, but his free kicks remain as fatal as ever.

11. Arjen Robben

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    Age: 27

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Nationality: Dutch

    Position: Winger / Second Striker

    Another player who is perhaps known best for his talents outside of set pieces, it seems there is very little that Arjen Robben actually can't do.

    The Dutchman has had a long career with a number of top European clubs and at just 27, he still has a good while of torturing goalkeepers left in him.

10. Steven Gerrard

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    Age: 30

    Club: Liverpool

    Nationality: English

    Position: Midfield

    If you ask Liverpool fans, they will call him a homegrown, one club, kop legend. That does not begin to describe the way that Steven Gerrard can play at his best though.

    Known for some of his powerful strikes from outside the 18-yard box, Gerrard converts this to set pieces as well, making him a very dangerous prospect for goalkeepers to face. His talent means that he not only takes free kicks for Liverpool, but has also been one of England's leading free kick takers in recent times as well.

9. Rafael Van Der Vaart

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    Age: 28

    Club: Tottenham Hotspur

    Nationality: Dutch

    Position: Attacking Midfielder

    It's a well-known fact already that the £8 million that Tottenham secured Rafael Van Der Vaart for was quite possibly the bargain of the season, not only because it gives an extra element of class to a rapidly developing Tottenham side, but also because he can provide them with killer free kicks every match.

    Van Der Vaart has been a prolific goalscorer since joining Tottenham, but has also proven that he is a quality act elsewhere in Europe despite his disappointing time at Real Madrid.

8. Oleksandr Aliyev

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    Age: 26

    Club: Dynamo Kyiv

    Nationality: Ukrainian (Born in Russia, but plays for Ukraine through FIFA rules)

    Position: Attacking Midfielder

    Many fans may not have heard of Oleksandr Aliyev, or even understand why he's quite so high on this list, but for those that do know him, he is regularly described as possibly the best free kick taker in Europe.

    Aliyev has not been prolific at international level, but when he gets the chance to take a set piece he almost always shows the world what he can do. The Ukraine vs. Turkey Under 21's European Championship match in 2006 is just evidence of that.

7. Diego Forlan

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    Age: 31

    Club: Atletico Madrid

    Nationality: Uruguayan

    Position: Striker

    Again, perhaps not one of the more expected names on the list, but Diego Forlan has such magnificent control of footballs that it makes him a perfect free kick taker.

    The striker proved to the world exactly what he could do to teams during the 2010 World Cup, as if anyone needed any reminding. His career in Spain at domestic level also proves not only his ability but also his magnificent free kicks.

6. Alessandro Del Piero

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    Age: 36

    Club: Juventus

    Nationality: Italian

    Position: Striker

    A veteran of the game by now, Alessandro Del Piero is one of the most recognised players from the past two decades of the game.

    The Italian has won numerous awards, with the pinnacle being his 2006 World Cup triumph with Italy. While his attacking ability also strikes fear into defenders, his free kicks have always done exactly the same to goalkeepers, as Del Piero has become known around Europe as a free kick expert.

5. Ronaldinho

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    Age: 31

    Club: Flamengo

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Position: Attacking Midfielder / Winger / Striker

    Perhaps he's gone downhill from the fancy, trickery genius that everyone seemed to love watching, but Ronaldinho still has the ability to hit a mean free kick.

    England fans will know all to well of his ability, with arguably his most famous free kick coming for Brazil in the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup. Despite his recent dip in form, there can be no denying that Ronaldinho deserves his place on this list.

4. Roberto Carlos

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    Age: 38

    Club: Anzhi Makhachkala

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Position: Left Back

    Believe it or not Roberto Carlos is still playing. At the moment in Russia captaining a Premier League side. The left back should need very little introduction to football fans though as he is recognised as one of the greatest full backs of the past generation, with his powerful shots second to none.

    Perhaps his most famous moment on the international stage however, was the unbelievable "Banana Kick", in which he tricked the opposition goalkeeper into not even moving for the ball before realising that it was curling back into the net.

3. David Beckham

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    Age: 35

    Club: Los Angeles Galaxy

    Nationality: English

    Position: Right Midfield

    Quite possibly the most famous English footballing export of all time, David Beckham has become a global icon, which ultimately comes down to his footballing ability.

    There were times when he may have been overrated, or when he let clubs down, but on the whole Beckham proved a top quality footballer over his career. His particular strength is set pieces, at which he was (and considered by some still to be) the best in the world.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Age: 26

    Club: Real Madrid

    Nationality: Portuguese

    Position: Winger / Striker

    Many people would have placed Ronaldo at number one as he adds free kick taking to his list of talents within football, but despite his exceptional ability from set pieces he's not quite number one.

    The player has performed unbelievably for Manchester United and Real Madrid in the past, and his free kicks have been the stuff of nightmares for goalkeepers. The Portuguese winger is a very talented free kick specialist, much of which can be evidenced via YouTube.

1. Juninho Pernambucano

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    Age: 36

    Club: Al-Gharafa

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Position: Attacking Midfielder

    Best known for his time at Olympique Lyonnais, Juninho Pernambucano is undisputedly one of the finest set piece masters the world has ever seen.

    While his overall playing ability may not have matched up the the exceptionally high standards of some others on this list, his free kick taking ability exceeds them all. If any more evidence is needed, then just ask the goalkeepers he's played against. Some of them are probably still in therapy.

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