A dead ball hit with a perfect technique swerving in the air before thumping into the back of the net, out of reach of a goalkeeper in dismay, is one of the most thrilling sights in the game of football.
Over the years, there have been many masters of the art of direct free-kicks. David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Shunsuke Nakamura and Juninho Pernambucano are some of the names widely regarded as the best set-piece specialists in the history of the game.
But who are the best free-kick takers in the game presently?
Here we take a look at five of the best active dead-ball specialists, based on the number of goals scored and their conversion rate.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
One of the next-gen stars of world football, Paulo Dybala has developed quite a reputation as a dead-ball specialist, especially since arriving at Juventus. La Joya, with his wand of a left-footed, has left many fans enchanted and many goalkeepers spellbound.
Till date, the Argentine international has scored 12 goals from set-piece situations in his club career, more than 50% of which have been match-winners. Two of these 12 strikes have come in the 2019-20 season, while six of them were scored in the last two years. The tally should only grow as his career progresses.
Some of the best dead-ball specialists in the game have been from Brazil. Ronaldinho, Rogerio Ceni along with the aforementioned Roberto Carlos and Juninho are some of the names that spring to mind immediately. And Neymar has continued that tradition, scoring some special free-kick goals in his career so far.
The 28-year-old has netted 14 goals from direct free-kicks in his career spanning Santos, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, and has been one of the most prolific set-pieces takers especially in the Champions League football in recent seasons.
Aleksandar Kolarov (AS Roma)
Known in some quarters as the Serbian Roberto Carlos, when the full-back strikes a dead ball with his hammer of a left-foot, more often than not, it ends up in the back of the net. Over the years, Kolarov has scored some special free-kick goals for Lazio, Manchester City and AS Roma.
In total, the 34-year-old has netted 18 times from set-piece situations, including two in the 2019-20 season. Kolarov became the first and only defender to reach double figures for goals from direct free-kicks in the top five European leagues last season.
Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)
The Bosnian midfielder has been one of the top-notch set-piece takers across Europe in recent years. Miralem Pjanic may have had to share set-piece duties with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala in the past couple of campaigns, which has impacted his output, but there is no denying his quality from dead-ball situations.
Till date, Pjanic has scored 21 goals from free-kicks, 12 of which have come in the last five seasons. One-third of those strikes have come in the match-winning situations, highlighting his ability to deliver in key moments.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The little magician from Argentina wasn’t as prolific from dead-ball situations early in his career, but that has certainly changed now. Each time Barcelona get a free-kick around the edge of the box, Messi, more often than not, caresses the ball into the back of the net.
More reliant on finesse than brute force, the Barcelona skipper is one of the best active set-piece takers without a question. In his career so far, the 32-year-old has netted 46 goals from direct free-kicks, that have included 19 match-winning efforts.