Bicycle kicks are sensational, backheel flicks are audacious and scorpion kicks are phenomenal. But none of them match the sheer beauty of beating the goalkeeper with a dead-ball, sweetly curled or thumped through a literal wall of players. The flavour is accentuated when the keeper is left rooted to his/her spot; oh how the heart breaks!
If football was to be compared to war, the dead ball would be the deadliest weapon in any team’s arsenal. A player gets fouled, it’s not a penalty and the crowd waits with bated breath. To curl or to dip (or both), that is the question.
The Puskas Award 2016 is a clear testament to the fact that the world recognizes the speciality of free-kicks. Here, we look at the top 5 dead-ball beauties that have brought much joy and wonder from all sides of the world.
#5 Dimitri Payet, France vs. Russia, 30th March 2016
(Video Courtesy: International Football YouTube Channel)
There is a reason why Dimitri Payet is hailed as one of the best free-kick takers in the world right now and also why he features 2 times in this article. The score read 2-1 in the 64th minute when Payet stepped up and let loose a 30-yard screamer into the top right corner.
He would go on to finish the match with also an assist to his name in the 4-2 win over Russia. A perfect birthday gift for a terrific player, who had just celebrated his birthday only two days prior to the match.
#4 Philippe Coutinho, Arsenal vs. Liverpool, 14th August 2016
(Video Courtesy: ROMALDINHO YouTube Channel)
One of the first matches of the new season and what a terrific match-up it was to be. Arsenal had started the match really well, and were up by two goals to nil at nearly the stroke of half-time. Then Liverpool won a free-kick around 25 yards from the goal.
Up stepped the dazzling Brazilian and curled a sumptuous strike, into the top left corner, beating Petr Cech effectively. That goal quietened the Emirates to a hush. The Reds took that goal’s momentum into the second half, eventually winning the game 3-4 in the thrilling 7 goal encounter.
Coutinho went on to score a brace but nothing matched the beauty of his half-time strike.
#3 Dimitri Payet, West Ham vs. Crystal Palace, 2nd April 2016
(Video Courtesy: Football Vine YouTube Channel)
Another one for the Payet books. The French playmaker has firmly established himself as a master of the dead-ball and his finest moment came last year against Crystal Palace.
West Ham were pushing for a Top 4 finish and in the tough matchup against a resurgent Palace, the score was tied 1-1. Near the halfway mark, Payet was fouled just outside the area and stepped up to take the free-kick. Such was the sublime technique and vicious dip on the ball, it found the top-left corner and went in by the right pole side. No goalkeeper in the world could’ve saved that.
If David Beckham hadbeen visiting Boleyn Ground for this match, he would’ve seen this moment of curling (and look at that dip!) perfection that would have made him proud. Though the Hammers went on to draw the match and their top 4 hopes were diminished, they had seemingly found a new hero in Dimitri Payet and his breathtaking free-kicks.
#2 Lionel Messi, USA vs. Argentina, June 21 2016
(Video Courtesy: ShivDes357 YouTube Channel)
The football world never seems to be tired of Lionel Messi. Everyone knows what he is capable of and still he manages to surprise them all just the same. Be it the dazzling dribbles executed with the smoothness of a butter knife or inch-perfect passes like gifts for Christmas, he makes it all look easy. And then, there is his dead-ball expertise.
The Argentina captain has already scored 3 free-kicks in his 3 appearances in 2017, showcasing a conversion rate which even ousts his efficiency from the spot-kick. A fine testament to his free-kick acumen came in Copa America, last June, against USA.
In the 33rd minute, with the visitors leading by a single goal, the referee awarded a free-kick to Argentina about 30 yards from the goal. Their captain took a short-run and curled the ball over the wall, into the top right-hand corner, a finish of such immaculate precision that Brad Guzan had a zero chance of getting anywhere near to it.
That goal also made Messi the highest goal-scorer of Argentina; a fine strike which would’ve made a certain Ronaldinho proud of his ex-Barcelona teammate.
#1 Mohd Faiz Subri, Penang FA vs. Pahang FA, 16 February 2016
(Video Courtesy: sports channel 1 YouTube Channel)
Though the scope of this article has covered major international leagues and tournaments, this strike stands out amongst all the others for two key reasons. It was scored in a near-unknown Malaysian Super League and it won the FIFA Puskas Award 2016 – the first time the award has gone to a free-kick.
Sabri was close to 40 yards from goal and at a near-impossible angle. What happened next is something words are hard to describe, even in retrospect, as the ball changed direction in physics-defying terms and befuddled the goalkeeper who remained rooted to his spot.
The video of Sabri’s strike went viral, with him engaged in a modest celebration and even downplaying the genius involved in that strike by saying that he got ‘lucky’ with the goal. Even the absolute master of the dead-ball, Juninho, would have a hard-time replicating that strike at his prime.