The 15 best free-kicks of all time: where does Messi rank?

Lionel Messi Liverpool Barcelona free-kick

15. 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.

14. Lionel Messi, Barcelona vs Liverpool

Yes, 'only' No.14 – we're sorry. But just wait to see what we've got in store for you later: the bar is high. 

Nonetheless, this was remarkable. Barcelona already led 2-0 in a Champions League semi-final first leg they hadn't dominated against Liverpool, but this sickening sucker-punch killed off the Reds at Anfield – and fittingly, marked Messi's 600th goal for the Blaugrana. Watch the replay: there was only a slender pocket that the Argentine wizard could have put the ball, but struck this so sweetly – right around the wall, too – that Alisson effectively got nowhere near it. Ridiculous. 

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.

12. Lasse Schone, Ajax vs Feyenoord

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

Probably the instructions of Feyenoord boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst ahead of this Klassieker against Ajax, but the Dutchman’s players were unable to comply. Still, it's not ever player you'd worry about over a free-kick when it's 40 yards out. Nevertheless, just 53 seconds in, Schone put Ajax ahead at the Amsterdam Arena,= after letting rip with an astonishing piledriver that kissed the bar on its way in. 

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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.

But that was probably all part of an act which sees Juan Munante step over the ball and Cubillas delicately prod 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).

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. 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 on the ball.

9. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United vs Portsmouth

Ronaldo was unstoppable in the 2007/08 campaign, much like this free-kick in a 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 Milan 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 (opens in new tab) unerring howitzer for Al-Rayyan, this (opens in new tab) vicious jiggler against Sedan, this (opens in new tab) effortless pass in a World Cup warm-up for Brazil and this (opens in new tab) 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.

INTERVIEW The best free-kick taker EVER: Juninho Pernambucano on how he got so good

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 with Kashiwa's 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 Old Trafford 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 wall and 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.

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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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Greg Lea

Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).