In the opening game of the 1997 Tournoi de France between Brazil and France, Roberto Carlos scored one of the most famous and incredible free kicks in football history. The shot’s trajectory started going towards the corner flag before swerving towards goal at the last second and hitting the back of the net, leaving Fabien Barthez dazed and confused.
Was it a fluke? Not according to physicists who studied the goal:
“We have shown that the path of a sphere when it spins is a spiral,” lead researcher Christophe Clanet from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris told BBC News.
Dr Clanet described this path as a “snail-shell shaped trajectory”, with the curvature increasing as the ball travels.
Because Roberto Carlos was 35m (115ft) from the goal when he kicked the ball, more of this spiral trajectory was visible. So the apparently physics-defying sharp turn of the ball was actually following a naturally tightening curve.
“On a real soccer pitch, we will see something close to this ideal spiral, but gravity will modify it,” explained Dr Clanet.
“But if you shoot strongly enough, like Carlos did, you can minimise the effect of gravity.”
The match ended 1-1 and Brazil eventually finished second in the tournament behind England (although Selecão beat them 1-0 thanks to a goal from Romário).
For more wild Roberto Carlos shots, check out this monster goal.