By Carlo Garganese
On Monday, former Brazil international Juninho Pernambucano announced his retirement from professional football at the ripe old age of 39.
The ex-Lyon and Vasco da Gama midfielder is most noted for his incredible free kick taking ability and will be remembered as one of the game's best ever set-piece specialists.
The Recife-native followed a long-line of Brazilian free kick masters, and Goal runs down the 10 greatest of all time.
One of the best players in the world during the late 1990s, Rivaldo - like most on this list - had a quite delicious left foot. Often he made use of this from set-piece situations, both for club and country. One of his most memorable strikes was a stunner for Barcelona against Turkish outfit Fenerbahce.
Football royalty that he is, it is often forgotten just how good at free kicks Pele was - particularly those just outside the area, which were hit with fierce power and swerve. Not many players have scored free kicks in successive World Cups, but ‘The King’ did. His effort against Romania in 1970 was particularly noteworthy.
A star member of the brilliant 1982 Brazil team, which also included Socrates, Falcao, Cerezo and Junior, Eder was known as ‘The Cannon’ due to his rocket of a left foot. During Espana ’82 he scored two wonder-goals, but he will be best remembered for his astonishing free kick that hit the bar against Argentina, and led to Zico breaking the deadlock. Quite possibly the greatest free kick of all time that never went in.
Roberto Carlos was always hit and miss with his free kicks, but he simply has to be on this list - purely due to the fact that he scored possibly the best free kick of all time against France during Le Tournoi in 1997. Everyone who witnessed this goal 'live' had the same reaction – pure disbelief!
The silky-skilled attacking midfielder spent the best part of a decade in Italy, where he became famous for his dead-balls - particularly during one season with Avellino in 1986-87 where he led them to a club-record eighth place with a whole host of free kicks. Dirceu played in three World Cups for Brazil and scored a beautiful set-piece curler against Peru in 1978.
The dead-ball successor to Rivelino and Eder and predecessor to Roberto Carlos, the left-footed Branco was one of the world’s premier free kick experts of the late 1980s and early 90s. The ex-Porto, Genoa and Middlesbrough left back used the valve of the ball in order to increase movement and swing. He booked Brazil’s place in the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup with a blockbuster against Holland.
Rivelino was feared by goalkeepers for possessing a disturbingly powerful left foot shot, a potency that earned him the nickname ‘Atomic Kick’. One of the pioneers of the banana shot, due to his ability to swerve the ball obscene proportions, the elastico-inventor scored a truly unique free kick during the 1974 second round World Cup win over East Germany. He fired the ball through a gap in the wall that was created by a team-mate.
Voted best player at the 1958 World Cup, Didi was one of the first Brazilian free kick masters. The ex-Fluminense, Botafogo and Real Madrid star was the inventor of the ‘dry leaf’ free kick, so-called because it would dip and swerve in unpredictable directions. Of the 20 goals he scored for the Selecao, a dozen came from dead-balls, including one in the 5-0 thrashing of Mexico at the 1954 World Cup.
The now-retired midfielder is regarded by many to have been the world’s best free kick taker of his generation. Short, medium or long range, curlers, swervers, dippers, blasters - Juninho was a master in every way. Upon leaving Lyon in 2009, the midfielder had scored more than 40 goals from direct free kicks during his eight years with the club - working out at over five a season.
The best player in the world during the early 1980s, no one could curl a ball over a defensive wall with such unerring accuracy as Zico. The ‘White Pele’, who starred for Flamengo, Udinese, Sumitomo Metals and Kashima Antlers, scored one of the best World Cup free kicks against Scotland in 1982. While once playing for Udinese against Juventus, it took five minutes for him to take a free kick, as the Turin-outfit were so scared they kept illegally pushing the wall forward.