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Roberto Carlos Explains Secret Behind How He Scored ‘Impossible’ Free-Kick

Roberto Carlos Explains Secret Behind How He Scored ‘Impossible’ Free-Kick

Nobody would be talking about a France vs Brazil friendly, played 23 years ago today, if Roberto Carlos hadn't swerved in a free-kick so sensational it stunned football fans and scientists alike.

From 40 yards out, the tree trunk-thighed left-back struck the ball with raw power, sending it spinning around the 'wrong' side of the French wall - before it bent the laws of physics by boomeranging back to land inside the post.

Goalkeeper Fabian Barthez didn't even move.

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The defender explained his technique to FourFourTwo in 2015, saying: "I always struck set pieces on the valve because that's the hardest part of the ball and you get more power."

Watch the free-kick and you can see how long the 24-year-old takes to carefully place the ball with its valve in the perfect spot. He then takes a run-up so long that it begins inside the centre circle.

"I always kicked the ball from its bottom-left to the top-right, which helped it swerve," he said on his connection.

What's truly amazing is where Roberto Carlos was actually aiming his shot. Hint: it wasn't the back of the net.

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Roberto Carlos/PA Images
Roberto Carlos/PA Images

"I'll always remember the advertising behind the goal. I was aiming for the 'A' in La Poste, but when I hit the shot it was miles away from that - going towards a different advert!" he said.

"The ball boy was diving out of the way of the shot, too. He should have had more confidence in me!"

It was quickly labelled a freak goal, especially after we watched the Real Madrid great rocket numerous free-kicks into the wall in the years after. But he clearly knew what he was doing. He even replicated it last year in his garden.

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However the trajectory of his shot was so impossible-looking that physicists had to explain it.

Roberto Carlos Recreates His 'Impossible' Free Kick Against France, 22 Years Later
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Roberto Carlos Recreates His 'Impossible' Free Kick Against France, 22 Years Later

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Four French scientists actually put together a new equation for the New Journal of Physics - which Gizmodo helpfully translated into understandable English.

"It all comes down to the fact that, when a sphere spins, its trajectory is a spiral," they explain. "Usually, gravity and the relatively short distance the ball travels covers up this spiral trajectory, but Carlos was 115 feet away and kicked the ball hard enough to reveal its true spiral-like path."

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Right! At this point, we're just nodding, picturing Roberto Carlos and original Ronaldo having a big cigar after the game - but this diagram helps.

Alasdair Wilkins, io9
Alasdair Wilkins, io9

Apparently the ball would have just kept spiralling if the pesky net (and gravity) hadn't stopped it.

But thankfully one scientist has said what we're all thinking: the free-kick in this 1-1 draw was basically a miracle.

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"Although physics explain perfectly the ball's trajectory, the conditions in that moment - such as the power of the kick, the point of impact of Roberto Carlos's foot on the ball, and the distance to the goal - were so rare that we can call that a miracle," said Professor Luis Fernando Fontanari of the University of Sao Paulo.

Or, as the player himself once explained: "I just hit it and it went in."

That'll do for us, Roberto. Now let's all watch some more of his slightly less special - but still smashing - goals.

Topics: Football News, Brazilian football, Football, Free Kicks, Roberto Carlos, Brazil

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Alex Reid

Alex Reid is a writer at SPORTbible who’s previously strung words together for FourFourTwo, Boxing News, The Guardian and, yes, Cruise International (it’s about big ships, not Tom). Interests range from football and boxing to real sports like WWE and darts. He is not a cage fighter.