Football: Stunning, staggering strike of pure genius

Ian Ridley on the Brazilian `bender' that touched 85mph

There were recriminations in the French camp yesterday after the 1-1 draw against Brazil in Lyon the night before. The goalkeeper Fabien Barthez blamed himself for not lining up the wall properly. But just how do you defend one of the greatest free-kick goals ever scored?

Imagine the team talk before England play Brazil in Le Tournoi in Paris next Tuesday. "Right boys," says Glenn Hoddle, "if we give away a free- kick in the centre of the field, about 35 yards out, watch this Roberto Carlos. He's liable to take a 15-yard run up from inside the centre circle, drive the ball with the outside of his left foot and curve it back in off the post."

Franck Leboeuf seemed to know what was coming. As Roberto Carlos was winding up, the Chelsea defender turned to Patrice Loko and asked if he had seen him strike a ball before. "No," said Loko. "Just watch," replied Lebouef. It's an easy game from the subs' bench, though.

In truth, there was little the French could have done against a football travelling at 85.2mph. It might have helped having more than four in the wall, but such was the swerve on the ball that a ball boy some four yards to the left of the goal was flinching as it flew goalwards. To question the defending is akin to pointing out that Pavarotti's handkerchief doesn't look too clean tonight.

Synthetic, lightweight modern material has clearly made a considerable difference to the flight of the ball, but it remains a stunning, staggering strike. "I did score a goal like that against Roma, but it was in the run of play, not a free-kick," Roberto Carlos said. "It was an important goal for my career."

As comparison, others from past Brazilians spring to mind, Garrincha's for Brazil against Bulgaria at Goodison Park in 1966, for example, the heavier ball making it more laudable. That by Rivelino in Mexico in 1970 was in a more rarefied atmosphere.

In the modern era, Zico's against Scotland in Spain in 1982 stands out, along with Michel Platini's for France against England in 1984. Then there was Paul Gascoigne's for Tottenham against Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, and John Barnes also scored brilliantly against the Netherlands in 1993. Roberto Carlos's, for pace, power, distance and direction, surely eclipses them all, however.

Sheringham's snub to pounds 4m, page 29

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