Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 1 March 2015

From Messi to Ronaldo - the world's best free-kick takers

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
During his last couple of seasons at Manchester United, Ronaldo became the undisputed free-kick taker at Old Trafford. And he's continued as the favoured dead-ball specialist since moving to Real Madrid, despite a wealth of options. Ronaldo's technique is almost unique in that he appears to kick down on the ball, creating an unpredictable swerve almost impossible for goalkeepers to track. The speed of his free-kicks also allow for some long-range action.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
During his last couple of seasons at Manchester United, Ronaldo became the undisputed free-kick taker at Old Trafford. And he's continued as the favoured dead-ball specialist since moving to Real Madrid, despite a wealth of options. Ronaldo's technique is almost unique in that he appears to kick down on the ball, creating an unpredictable swerve almost impossible for goalkeepers to track. The speed of his free-kicks also allow for some long-range action.
Shunsuke Nakamura (Japan)
Nakamura came to the attention of most English football fans with his devastating displays against Manchester United in the Champions League in 2006. He scored dramatic free-kicks for Celtic in both the home and away ties during the group stages of that year. The Japanese midfielder has a habit of scoring dramatic goals - none more so than the injury-time free-kick against Kilmarnock in 2007 that landed Celtic their 41st League title. Now at Yokohama Marinos, Japan will be relying on Nakamura's speciality to progress from a tough looking World Cup group.
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
While the Inter Milan midfielder will have some competition, Sneijder will be expected to step up and take the free-kicks that come Holland's way. Starting at Ajax, then at Real Madrid and now under Jose Mourinho in Italy, the Dutchman has made himself the first choice dead-ball specialist. He's already scored numerous free-kicks since moving to Italy, including against CSKA Moscow as Inter progressed through the Champions League. If he fails to score from a dead-ball situation, he can be relied on to hit some beautiful long range efforts; his stunning goals helped light up Euro 2008.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
The beast that will be leading the line for the Ivory Coast also has a delicate side. Over the last couple of years the Chelsea striker has shown his ability to caress the ball into the top corners with some stunning efforts from outside the box. Competing in World Cup group G, which also comprises Brazil and Portugal, Drogba's contribution will be essential.
Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
AC Milan star Andrea Pirlo will be first in the queue when the Italians are awarded a decision near the opposition's goal. Although not a prolific scorer, the 30-year-old does like a free-kick, as Scotland once found out. Maestro (as he's known in Italy) scored twice from dead ball situations against the Scots during qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
Kaka (Brazil)
Brazil have had their fair share of free-kick specialists. From Carlos, to Zico and more recently Ronaldino, the current crop of stars have a lot to live up to. And the World Cup favourites will most likely look to Kaka to supply the goals from dead-ball situations. After an inconsistent first season at Real Madrid, plagued by injuries, the No 10 will be desperate to impress. Although Brazil manager Dunga could just as easily call on Robinho, Dani Alves or Luis Fabiano to step up if required. There's even a rumour that following his recent impressive displays for Corinthians, Roberto Carlos could be in line for a return to the squad. Should he feature in South Africa, the world will get a final glimpse of one the greatest free-kick takers of all time.
Julio Cesar de Leon (Honduras)
Honduras have been pitted against Spain in Group H in South Africa. Yet with Chile and Switzerland making up the group, the Central Americans will be hopeful of progress to the second round. Some of that hope stems from Julio Cesar de Leon, or 'Rambo' as he's affectionately known. The Parma midfielder, who spent this season on loan at Torino, is something of a free-kick specialist. He scored a spectacular goal against the United States during qualification for South Africa, taking one-step and curling the ball over the wall.
Xavi Hernandez (Spain)
Spain have a ridiculously good pool of players to call on when it comes to free-kicks. Fabregas, Villa, Iniesta, Alonso... the list goes on. But it will likely be Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez who gets first dibs if there's a goal scoring chance. Uefa's Player of the Tournament at Euro 2008 created two goals in one match with his free-kicks during qualification for the World Cup, proving that he can pick out his team-mates just as well as the top corner.
Kim Hyung-Bum (South Korea)
South Korea will have to go a long way to match their 2002 feat of reaching the semi-final of the World Cup. As they negotiate Group B, which includes Argentina, Greece and Nigeria they will hope that Kim Hyung-Bum can transfer his K-League goal scoring record to the international stage. Hyung-Bum has scored 11 free-kicks in South Korea's professional league which is a record.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
There's nothing that the best player in the world can't do - and that includes curling the ball into the top corner of the net. Yet the little maestro may not have had his chance to impress with the dead-ball if it wasn't for Diego Maradona's falling out with Juan Roman Riquelme. The former Villarreal midfielder scored a pair of majestically-struck set-pieces during qualification and was a shoe-in to take the free-kicks, but Maradona's refusal to pick him led to Riquelme announcing his international retirement earlier this year. Messi will step up and the world will take a deep breath - can the Barcelona man prove himself The Greatest beyond all doubt?

Ahead of the World Cup, the Belfast Telegraph will be running down the key people and factors to keep an eye out for in South Africa.

>>Click on the image to launch our guide.

From free-kick takers to WAGs, blasts from the past to the youngsters, we'll have it all covered before things kick-off in Johannesburg.

Despite the absence of David Beckham, South Africa will play host to numerous dead-ball specialists. Here, we bring you the free-kick takers to watch at the 2010 World Cup.

Source: Independent



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