Sydney FC vs Wellington Phoenix, 6th April 2014, 44th minute, Alessandro Del Piero stands over a free kick 20 yards from goal. The former Juventus captain weighs up the situation, takes a breath, strides two or three steps up and hits a spectacular curling shot which goes over the wall and lands into the net. The Conegliano native runs off in celebration and is soon embraced by his teammates, it was a classic Del Piero free kick, the 46th of his club career (excluding friendlies).
To honour the great man’s free kick prowess, I have decided to try and compile a top ten list of his finest set pieces, spanning three decades. This is a more arduous task than it sounds as he has so many free kicks that could (and should) make it into a top ten list. To try and narrow the list down to ten I’ve taken some things into consideration. Such as the importance of the match, the difficulty of executing the free kick and whether the strike was significant within the context of the match and the knock on effect. So with that said lets begin:
10. Rapid Vienna vs Juventus, Champions League 2005/06, 7th December 2005, 1-3
Importance of the match: The final match of the 2005/06 group stage, going into the game Juventus needed the win to top the group, ahead of Bayern Munich, who were away to Club Brugge. 1/5
Difficulty of the execution: In the 35th minute Juve are awarded a free kick some 30 yards from goal, Juve’s no.10 takes 4 or 5 baby steps and hits the ball with his laces sending the ball hurtling over the Vienna wall and across the box into the opposite corner of the net. Long before Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were ‘renowned’ for smashing free kicks and making the ball fizz, in the mid 00’s Juninho, Andrea Pirlo and Del Piero were exponents of this technique by hitting the ball with only three toes. A truly spectacular strike. 5/5
Significance in the game: The goal set Juve on their way to sealing victory and topping the group, in the end a win wasn’t necessary as Bayern could only draw in Belgium. The Old Lady were rewarded with Werder Bremen in the last 16. 1/5
9. Celtic vs Juventus, Champions League 2001/02, October 31st 2001, 4-3
Importance of the match: La Vecchia signora arrived in Glasgow on Halloween having already secured qualification and top place for the second group stage (remember that failed experiment?), Celtic on the other hand needed to beat Juve and hope Porto would slip up at home to Rosenberg to stand a chance of qualifying. 1.5/5
Difficulty of the execution: In the 19th minute the away side are awarded a free kick roughly 20 yards from goal. Del Piero like always places the ball down and weighs up the options, the free kick is positioned over to the right hand side of the box. Rab Douglas positions his wall to cover the left side of his goal, where he, and most people, expect Del Piero to strike the ball. The Juve captain alters from the script and deliciously curls the ball over the edge of the wall and across Douglas into his top right hand corner. Taking him totally by surprise. The Juve no.10 wheels away in celebration, a strike of absolute brilliance. 5/5
Significance in the game: The goal came against the run of play as Celtic, needing to win the game, went for the jugular from the 1st minute, the strike stunned Celtic Park, maybe because of the beauty of it or maybe they felt Juve didn’t deserve the lead. Either way the lead didn’t last long as Celtic equalized five minutes later and would eventually find themselves 4-2 up before David Trezeguet made it 4-3, Celtic would hold on for the victory but it was in vain as Porto beat Rosenberg 1 – 0 to qualify along with Juve. Celtic went into the UEFA Cup with a then record nine points. 1/5
8. Chievo vs Juventus, Serie A 2008/09, November 9th 2008, 0-2
Importance of the match: In November ’08 La Vecchia Signora were trying to stay in the race for the Scudetto, with Milan and Jose Mourinho’s Inter also vying for the league, the beginning of the season saw a 3-way battle. The club were also back in the Champions League for the first time in three seasons so then manager Claudio Ranieri was trying to juggle playing in the two competitions. 3/5
Difficulty of the execution: The area was textbook Del Piero territory, roughly 25 meters from goal and ever so slightly to the left hand side of the penalty box. II Capitano delivered a beautifully arched dead ball over the wall, curling all the time away from Stefano Sorrentino into his right hand top corner. The execution was so good he made it look simple, the only blemish being Cristian Molinaro dragging him to the ground in celebration and reminding us that he did unfortunately wear a Juventus jersey at one time. 3/5
Significance in the game: The goal gave Juve the lead in the 40th minute and would go on to score another goal through Marco Marchionni in the second half sealing the victory, keeping the pace with Inter who won against Udinese whilst Milan could only draw at Leece. This Juve side would ultimately fall short of mounting a serious title challenge as Mourinho won a Scudetto in his first season in Italy by some ten points. The Old Lady would also sack Ranieri during the latter part of the season and appoint Ciro Ferrara in the summer, the less said of which the better. 2.5/5
7. Napoli vs Juventus, Serie B 2006/07, 6th November 2006, 1-1
Importance of the match: Juventus had found themselves in the doldrums of Serie B due to the events of Calciopoli (Farsopoli in reality) in the summer of 2006. In round ten of the season Del Piero and co travelled south to Naples for the first time in five years as the two biggest teams in the division squared off. As usual the game was feisty and the atmosphere was electric in the vast concrete bowl of the San Paolo. 3/5
Difficulty of the execution: In the 67th minute Alex stands over a free kick on the left hand side of the box, roughly around 20 yards out. He takes two steps and beautifully curls a sumptuous effort that wraps around the post, leaving Napoli goalkeeper Gennaro Iezzo with no chance. On first viewing the free kick, while brilliant, doesn’t look like it would belong on a top ten list such as this, it’s only when seeing the replay that you see the beauty of it. Del Piero strikes the ball in such a way that it curls further and further away from the goalkeeper, ultimately just creeping past the post into the corner. Sublime. 3/5
Significance in the game: The strike was the opening goal in the match, giving Juve the lead for six minutes until Napoli equalised. The game ended in a stalemate but Juve would win the reverse fixture 2 – 0 in Turin as both teams achieved promotion to Serie A at the end of the season, finishing 1st and 2nd respectively. 2.5/5
6. Juventus vs Roma, Serie A 2008/09, November 1st 2008, 2-0
Importance of the match: Juve were hosting Roma on match day ten of the 2008/09 season, Claudio Ranieri’s men had started the season indifferently as they attempted to juggle domestic and European football with a relatively small squad and were already trying to keep pace with the Milanese duo. Expectations for the Scudetto were minimal as the club wanted to build on from the previous campaign and qualify for the Champions League once more. 2.5/5
Difficulty of the execution: The Bianconeri are awarded a free kick some thirty metres from goal in the 37th minute. Del Piero carefully places the ball, sizing up how to approach the dead ball. The free kick is in an ideal position, Del Piero takes four or five little steps and hits the ball with the inside of his foot, sending the ball up over the wall and bending beautifully into Cristiano Doni’s right hand corner. The Roma stopper had no chance. 3.5/5
Significance in the game: The goal came at a perfect time in the match, Juve had been the better side throughout the first half but had no reward for their efforts. Juve would add a second goal two minutes into the second half with Alex again instrumental. The Old Lady would win the match 2 – 0 and go on to have a decent season without ever really looking like serious challengers for the Scudetto. 3/5
5. Juventus vs Milan, Serie A 1997/98, March 28th 1998, 4-1
Importance of the match: In the 1997/98 season La Vecchia Signora were slugging it out for league supremacy with Inter in a classic Serie A campaign, led by Ronaldo in the peak of his career. By the time Fabio Capello’s Milan came to the Stadio Delle Alpi in March ’98, Del Piero and co were sitting atop the table, with Inter a point behind and Lazio in third. The Bianconeri simply had to win as Inter were likely to win at home to Vicenza. 4/5
Difficulty of the execution: Daniele Daino fouls Del Piero some twenty yards from the goal, ever so slightly to the left hand side of the box, the Juve no.10 converses with Edgar Davids, presumably telling Davids he has zero chance of getting to take the set piece. Now most players in this scenario would aim to curl the ball over the wall and into Sebastian Rossi’s top right hand corner, you have seen it a million times in a football match. However, Alex wraps his foot around the ball and lifts it past the outside of the wall, into Rossi’s top left hand corner. A truly wonderful strike. 3/5
Significance in the game: Alex had given Juventus the lead with a penalty earlier in the game, Zvnomir Boban equalized for Milan with a penalty of his own in the 33rd minute. This goal, six minutes later, gave The Old Lady the lead once more, with Pippo Inzaghi further adding a brace to complete a rout and pile more misery on a horrible season for Milan.
Inter as expected beat Vicenza 2-1 to keep the pressure on Juve. The race for Lo Scudetto would boil down to a single match a month later between Juve and Inter that has gone down in infamy. Juve would win the game 1-0 and go on to secure their 25th title on the 10th May as they beat Bologna 3-2 at the Delle Alpi while Inter surprisingly lost away to Bari. 4/5
4. Real Madrid vs Juventus, Champions League 2008/09, November 5th 2008, 0-2
Importance of the match: By match day four Juve were battling Real for top spot of Group H, the Turin side were 1 point ahead of the Spanish giants and knowing that if they could seal a victory in the Bernabeu it would give them a huge advantage with their last two remaining games being Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia and BATE Borisov at home. This was the crunch tie of the group. 4/5
Difficulty of the execution: It’s the 67th minute of the game, with arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport watching in the stands, Del Piero stands over the dead ball some twenty yards from Iker Casillas’s goal, Real Madrid make something resembling a wall which is terribly positioned, in fact the last person in the ‘wall’ is Giorgio Chiellini, who promptly moves as soon as Alex expertly strikes the ball, which rises and then sharply dips into Casillas’s bottom right corner. El Diego certainly would have approved. 3/5
Significance in the game: II Pinturicchio had already scored a magnificent goal earlier in the game, bending a beautifully shaped shot past Casillas from outside the area. The free kick sealed a famous away win for an Old Lady side which wasn’t exactly brimming with world-class talent. Juve’s double victory helped the team to finish top the group.
Alex was on an astonishing run of form, this was his third goal from a free kick in a week, the other two strikes, against Chievo and Roma, have already been mentioned above. This was undoubtedly the most important of the three strikes.
Late in the game, Del Piero left the field to a standing ovation from the Madrid faithful, always the first to acknowledge when greatness appears before them. In 2013, with the two clubs once again pitted in the same group, Alex reflected on the moment ‘’ Receiving a standing ovation at the temple of football is priceless. It was incredible sportsmanship from the fans, their ability to applaud an opponent even when their team was losing. For me it is like a trophy at an individual level.’’ 5/5
3. Inter vs Juventus, Serie A 2005/06, February 12th 2006, 1-2
Importance of the match: The Derby D’Italia, always one of the biggest fixtures in the Serie A calendar. Juve had to travel to hated rivals Inter and with the club fighting neck and neck for the Scudetto with Milan in a gripping title race, the Bianconeri knew all 3 points were vital as Milan were away to lowly Reggina expecting all three points. There was no margin for error. 5/5
Difficulty of the execution: It’s the 79th minute, the ball is located down the centre of Julio Cesar’s goal, there is some shoving in the wall, after what seems like an eternity the referee blows his whistle, Del Piero runs up and curls the ball with his instep, sending the ball arching over the Inter wall and flying into Cesar’s top left and corner. The angle of the free kick suited a player with Alex’s capabilities, as he could have sent the ball into either corner. He’s scored trickier set pieces. 3/5
Significance in the game: Crucial, the game was heading towards a draw before Alex scored, with Milan trouncing Reggina 4-1 earlier in the day, Juve had to win to keep pace with the Rossoneri. On a personal level Del Piero was also going through something of a crisis, he wasn’t seeing eye to eye with Fabio Capello, ever the drill sargeant, wasn’t that keen on the no.10 and his game time had dwindled in the 05/06 season. The goal proved to be a catalyst for both club and player as Alex went on to win himself a place in Marcello Lippi’s Italy squad for the World Cup, while Capello’s Juve ended the season victorious, three points ahead of Milan. 5/5
2. Juventus vs Monaco, Champions League 1997/98, April 1st 1998, 4-1
Importance of the match: A place in the final of the Champions League, do the stakes get much higher? Juve were aiming to reach their third consecutive final, against a Monaco side which had knocked out Manchester Utd in the previous round and contained future Juve legend David Trezeguet and future Juve flop Thierry Henry. However Juve were the clear favourites to make it to Amsterdam. 5/5
Difficulty of the execution: In the 35th minute the home side is awarded a free kick – by now you get the gist. Del Piero is measuring the situation, he runs up and hits the ball with his instep, sending the ball over the Monaco wall and curling beautifully into Fabien Barthez’s top right hand corner, who gets finger tips to the ball but the pace of the strike is too great for the Frenchmen. The goal scorer wheels away in celebration. 4/5
Significance in the game: The game was 0-0 when Alex stroked home the dead ball to give Juve the lead, Monaco would equalize before Del Piero added a further two goals to complete his hat trick (nobody would score a hattrick in the semi final of this competition for another fifteen years). Juve’s French maestro Zinedine Zidane finished off a rampant Juve performance to make it 4 – 1.
The two legs against Monaco represented something of a watershed moment in his career, this was Alex at the absolute pinnacle of his career. In the 1997/98 season, he was undoubtedly the best player in the world alongside Ronaldo and would finish top goalscorer in the Champions League that campaign with ten goals, the last Italian to do so.
The rest of 1998 however would not be as kind to him, he was injured in the run up to the final, which would effect his performances at France ’98 were he was overshadowed by Roberto Baggio. He later sustained that injury in Udine shortly after the 1998/99 season began and he would never be the same player again. 5/5
1. Juventus vs Lazio, Serie A 2011/12, April 11th 2012, 2-1
Importance of the match: Juve went into this crucial match having regained top spot in the table after Milan had lost the previous weekend at home to Fiorentina. The club had not been top of the table this late in the season for six long years and in round 32 of the season Lazio visited the Juventus Stadium hoping to take something from the game as they had Champions League aspirations. Milan had won away to Chievo the previous day to recover top spot, albeit momentarily if The Old Lady couldn’t win. This was a game to prove Antonio Conte’s vibrant Juve side had the mettle to win when it really mattered. 5/5
Difficulty of the execution: In the 82nd minute Juve win a free kick, when Cristian Ledesma blocked a Claudio Marchisio shot with his arm. Del Piero and Andrea Pirlo, who had been Juve’s free kick taker for the entire season, stand over the ball. The ball is some thirty yards meters from goal, while Pirlo is talking to the referee, Del Piero (who was also making his 700th appearance for the club) quickly runs up and hits the ball through the Lazio wall (if one could call it that), bending it into Federico Marchetti’s bottom right hand corner. The Juve legend runs away in celebration with his now famous tongue celebration.
Much like his already mentioned free kick against Celtic a decade before, Del Piero again went against conventional free kick wisdom and struck the ball across the wall rather than up and over it, but unlike the Celtic goal he was further out this time around and had more men to get the ball through. Marchetti no doubt believed he would strike the ball over the wall, thankfully for Juve he thought wrong and there was nothing he could do to prevent the goal. Genius on Del Piero’s part. 5/5
Significance in the game: The importance of the strike cannot be valued enough, Juventus had battered Lazio from start to finish, but with the score at 1-1 and Marchetti making save after save, it looked likely that the game would finish in a stalemate and with it any chance that Juve would win their first Scudetto since 2006.
Del Piero’s goal not only gave his team the victory which they ultimately deserved, but you sensed it gave the whole team the conviction that was needed to go on and win the league. Following the Lazio win Juve would go on to win five out of their last six games, finishing the campaign four points ahead of Milan, who were led by ‘Mr. Scudetto’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
This was also Del Piero’s last goal from a free kick for Juve, he had a frustrating season as Antonio Conte rarely started him, opting for Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic up front. There was also intense debate as to whether the club would offer him a contract extension, which they didn’t (still a sore spot with many Juventini).
He had only been on the field for ten minutes before he scored, but that was the beauty of Alex Del Piero in a black and white shirt, he needed only seconds to make a contribution. His impact in this match and to the 2011/12 Scudetto is still immeasurable. Grazie for everything Alex. 5/5