The 15 greatest free-kicks of all time

Greg Lea
Ronaldos screamer, Robertos jaw-dropping banana and the cheek of Ronaldinho Greg Lea counts down the greatest ever dead-ball strikes

15. Ronaldinho, Flamengo vs Santos

Much like his famous toe-poke against Chelsea, this 2011 goal showcases what made Ronaldinho so special. After drawing a foul with some typically fantastic footwork, the Brazilian waits for the wall to jump out of the way before simply sliding his shot underneath it. He may have scored free-kicks that were more technically difficult to execute, but none evidence Ronaldinho’s invention, audacity and downright genius quite like this one.

1:20 for the goal

14. Garrincha, Brazil vs Bulgaria

Looking at the respective positions of the wall, the goalkeeper and the free-kick itself, it would appear that the only way a right-footer could put the ball where Garrincha sticks it is by curling it with the instep. But no. The Brazil international instead strikes across it with the outside of his boot, bending the ball into the top corner to give the Seleção a commanding 2-0 lead in this 1966 World Cup group stage clash. Stunning.

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13. Hakan Calhanoglu, Hamburg vs Borussia Dortmund

Turkish midfielder Calhanoglu has developed a reputation as a free-kick specialist in recent years – and this is the most astonishing he’s hit so far. Despite the fact that 45 yards separate ball from net, the then-Hamburg man acquaints the two with this ferocious strike which arrows towards goal before dramatically swerving left at the last minute.

The only thing this 2014 free-kick loses marks for is Dortmund’s utter apathy at trying to defend it. Although having said that, there wouldn’t have been much they could do anyway.

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12. Lasse Schone, Ajax vs Feyenoord

“Keep it tight first 20, boys. Don’t give anything silly away.”

Those were probably the instructions of Feyenoord boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst ahead of Sunday’s Klassieker against Ajax, but the Dutchman’s players were unable to comply. Just 53 seconds in, Lasse Schone gave the hosts the lead at the Amsterdam Arena, letting rip with an astonishing piledriver that kissed the bar on its way in. Not a bad start for the home side, all in all.  

11. Teofilo Cubillas, Peru vs Scotland

Cubillas barely looks interested as Peru prepare to take this set-piece against Scotland in 1978, with three of his team-mates gathered around the edge of the opposition box.

That, however, was probably all part of an act which sees Juan Munante step over the ball and Cubillas delicately prod it around the wall with the outside of his foot. It’s a fine piece of skill and arguably the best free-kick in World Cup history (sorry Becks).

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10. Paul Gascoigne, Tottenham vs Arsenal

Picture the scene. You’re playing an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against your club’s biggest rivals. Just four minutes have elapsed and the game is still goalless when you’re awarded a free-kick 40 yards out. May as well have a dig, right?

That’s exactly what Paul Gascoigne did in 1991, and it proved a fantastic decision. Slamming his laces right through the centre of the ball, the Tottenham midfielder produced a missile which looked destined for the top corner as soon as he’d hit it. The free-kick seemed to pick up pace the further it travelled, leaving David Seaman without a hope of keeping it out despite managing to get a glove to it.

9. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United vs Portsmouth

Ronaldo was unstoppable in the 2007/08 campaign, much like this free-kick in the 2-0 defeat of Portsmouth that sent Manchester United to the top of the table in late January. Struck with venom, the ball flies over the wall and, at the last moment, dips decisively to leave David James stranded.

“That without doubt must be the best [I’ve seen in the Premier League],” Alex Ferguson said afterwards. “From that distance, he’s going to hit them. No keeper in the world would save that.”

00:23 is what you're looking for

8. Alvaro Recoba, Inter vs Bologna

Perhaps the most entertaining thing about this swerving free-kick from 2003 is the wall’s futile attempt to stop it. The four Bologna defenders jump as expected, before realising that Recoba has tried something completely different and turn around just in time to see the ball clip the far post on its way over the line. The Uruguayan magician won’t have hit many sweeter than this.

7. Juninho Pernambucano, Lyon vs Bayern Munich

In truth, this entire list could justifiably be made up of Juninho efforts, such was the Brazilian’s mastery of a dead ball. Beating off competition from this unerring howitzer for Al-Rayyan, this vicious jiggler against Sedan, this effortless pass in a World Cup warm-up for Brazil and this ridiculous rocket against Werder Bremen, is the former Lyon playmaker’s unique effort in a 2-1 victory over Bayern in 2003.

The ball looks to be headed miles over the bar when Juninho first makes contact with it, but there’s just the right amount of dip to bring it back down in time. Look out for poor Oliver Kahn adding injury to insult by crashing head-first into the post while trying in vain to keep it out. Ouch.

6. Paulinho, Guangzhou Evergrande vs Kashiwa Reysol

Yes Tottenham fans, that Paulinho. A move to the Chinese Super League has surprisingly revived the midfielder’s international career, although this 2016 free-kick was so good that Brazil boss Tite would probably have called him up even if he’d scored it at Hackney Marshes.

As is often the case, the camera angle from behind the goal is the most instructive. Here, it shows Paulinho’s astonishing strike progressively veering off to the right, until it lands in the top corner of the Kashiwa net with the goalkeeper having barely moved. What’s the Mandarin for ‘pick that one out’?

Skip to 0:18 if you don't like montages

5. David Beckham, England vs Greece

Circumstance and context must be taken into consideration when judging any type of goal, and free-kicks are no exception. England were trailing 2-1 to Greece in this crunch 2002 World Cup qualifier when a foul was given for a push on Teddy Sheringham in the third minute of second-half stoppage time. A play-off against Ukraine loomed unless the Three Lions could muster an equaliser from somewhere.

Step forward Beckham, who kept his cool to deliver a trademark curler over the wall and into the top corner, sending the vast majority of the Old Trafford crowd wild. Let’s hope no one left early to beat the traffic. (Oh, they did, did they?)

4. Mikael Nilsson, IFK Goteborg vs PSV

On first viewing, this doesn’t look like a particularly spectacular free-kick from Nilsson in the 1992/93 Champions League. The replay reveals its true nature, though: the Goteborg defender manages to apply an outrageous amount of curl to the ball, which flummoxes both the wall and the goalkeeper as it flashes around the former and evades the latter.

“Now they know he can shoot… oh they know he can shoot!” remarked an excited Clive Tyldesley as Nilsson pulled the trigger to score his second goal later in the same game.

3. Roberto Carlos, Brazil vs France

Let’s clear one thing up. Roberto Carlos was categorically not an expert free-kick taker. The thunder-thighed left-back was more likely to pick out row Z than the postage stamp throughout his career, with his dead-eye reputation sadly not matched by reality.

Yet it would be churlish to claim that his physics-defying ‘banana’ shot against France in 1997 wasn’t one of the greatest free-kicks ever scored. After taking a good 10 seconds to place the ball exactly how he wanted it, Carlos unleashed an extraordinary outside-of-the-foot strike, with a trajectory which started outside the far post but somehow curved back inside to find the net. It still doesn’t really make sense.

2. Mohd Faiz Subri, Penang FA vs Pahang FA

Faiz was the deserved winner of the Puskas Award for the most dazzling goal of 2016 – ahead of Neymar, Lionel Messi, Saul Niguez and others – for this outrageous free-kick in the Malaysian Super League.

The mind boggles when watching the ball bend one way around the wall and then completely change course, eventually ending up in the opposite corner of the net. It may be a cliche, but two goalkeepers wouldn’t have been able to keep this free-kick out.

1. Oleksandr Aliyev, Ukraine U20s vs Turkey U20s

Distance, power, accuracy, swerve and a satisfying clunk off the underside of the bar: this free-kick has it all.

At the 2005 Under-20 World Cup, Aliyev takes a straight run-up and smashes the ball towards goal, with Turkey goalkeeper Serkan Kirintili barely given a chance despite having an unobscured view of the shot. It’s such a clean strike from the Ukraine No.8, who somehow succeeds in making the ball shift towards the corner of the net after a couple of early wobbles in the air. Simply sensational.

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