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The shot that went around the world

25 years ago, Roberto Carlos scored probably the most famous of all free-kicks. Which probably ultimately hurt his club Real Madrid.

“No kid plays football to be Gary Neville” is a common saying in England. In other words, people don’t go to the stadium for a full-back.

But exceptions prove the rules, as we all know, and on 3 June 1997 it happened again. At the “Tournoi de France”, a preparatory tournament for the 1998 World Cup – a competition for which hardly anyone actually went to the stadium.

Suddenly a shot went around the world.

The eyes of all stadium and TV viewers were still fixed on France’s playmaker Zinedine Zidane or Brazil’s attacking duo Romario and Ronaldo, when the stocky, but actually all-muscle left-back of the Selecao stood more than 30 metres from goal again, as if 30 metres behind the ball. Then Roberto Carlos ran on.

First corner flag, then inside post

What followed was not a thumping shot or an erratic trajectory – but both together. Like everyone else, players, coaches and spectators alike, France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez watched as the accelerating ball appeared to be heading for the corner flag, only to bounce off the inside post and into the goal.

Suddenly, an outside defender was also a world star.

The then 24-year-old Roberto Carlos had joined Real Madrid only a year earlier, long before there was any talk of “galacticos”. When the time came, he was, in a way, one of them. The full-back who played more like a winger, had thighs like bridge piers and that fearsome shot that people try to recreate on football pitches all over the world.

Waiting for moments that were too rare

No one has actually ever reached that free-kick moment etched in football history, that is one realisation on the 25th anniversary, to which many a jaw still seems to have not closed.

Another realisation, that even Roberto Carlos himself hardly ever managed to do so, concerned his club Real, who naturally wanted to offer their sensation-seeking public something when they let the Brazilian kick attempts from 18, 25 or 40 metres again and again, while specialists like Zidane, Luis Figo or David Beckham were relegated to spectators as if ordered and not picked up.

Because while waiting for those rare special moments, they too had to realise: Roberto Carlos was not really a good free-kick taker.

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