Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder – a certain quality makes these players stand apart from the rest of the equally talented and skillful players. It’s nothing but their extraordinary prowess to deliver inch perfect set-pieces that makes them a prized possession in modern day football. In today’s world football arena a club’s success depends a lot on a dead-ball specialist’s caliber, making this rare breed of players stand at the top of every coaches’ wish list. Ability to score from set-pieces not only serves as an added advantage but also makes the game eye-catching and a pleasure to watch. There are numerous examples of a moment of brilliance from a set-piece delivery that has turned a game on its head and made the ardent followers of the game to treasure and cherish such moments for years to come.

Set-piece Specialists in Indian Football:

India may find itself at a dismal 145th spot in the latest FIFA rankings, but the followers of the game in this part of the world have also witnessed quite a few excellent dead-ball specialists over the years at the country level as well as the club level. Taking into account their abilities to get past the wall, power, technique, vision & effective position reading, here are our selection of top five set-piece executioners in contemporary I-league.

Here we go!

1. Alvito Ronaldo Correia D’Cunha

Kingfisher East Bengal FC
DOB : 12th July,1978 (age 32)
Height : 5′ 8” (1.73 m)
Playing Position : Left Winger / Attacking Midfielder

Often touted as the most talented footballer India has produced in this generation, ‘Alvi’ is a master of scoring wonder goals from dead ball situations. Alvito definitely needs no introduction to Indian football maniacs! The Goa-born left winger does possess a lethal left foot which has the optimal blend of power and precision required to deliver those stunning strikes from the edge of the box.

The brand ambassador of the Red-&-Gold brigade, Alvito’s lethal left footers have created some memorable classic long ranger scorchers and free-kicks during his prime. In-spite of his fitness-phobia for last 3 years, his ability to smash the opponents’ nets with perfectly executed finishes from the distance makes him our top selection of this rare breed of footballers in contemporary I-League.
Alvito D’Cunha – arguably the best in India

Most Memorable Moment:

It was Saturday,18th of August ’07, – Alvito decided to make his mark at the most anticipated game in India’s football calender – the eagerly anticipated Kolkata Derby. With the Red-&-Golds being 3 goals down to Mohun Bagan by the time for the lemon break, Alvito changed the course of the game by scoring two back to back mesmerizing goals in the second half. The first goal came within seconds of resumption with a stunning left-footer from about 25 yards out which swerved ferociously to left Sangram Mukherjee at the Bagan goal completely flabbergasted. This stunning strike was soon followed by another wonder goal from a free-kick. If the first goal highlighted his technique and precision, the second one was a demonstration of sheer power. This time Alvito stepped up to deliver an unstoppable grounder beneath the leaping Bagan defensive wall with the ‘keeper completely rooted to his place. Although East Bengal lost the match, the Red-&-Gold spectators got to treasure an awesome memento of Alvito’s true class.

2. Roberto Mendes da Silva:

Churchill Brothers SC
DOB : 14th September, 1978 (age 32)
Height : 5′ 11” (1.80 m)
Playing Position : Attacking Midfielder

Known for his superb set pieces and ball-control, the master of magical touches and heart-wrenching long rangers from the land of Samba, popularly known as ‘Beto”, is second in our list of  high-five set-piece specialists. The former torch-bearer of Dempo Sports Club is undoubtedly one of the best in business when it comes to delivering set-pieces with accurate swing and sudden dip. Beto, ofter compared to a poetry in motion when in his rhythmic best, is arguably the best ever foreign midfielder to have graced Indian football arena.

Most Memorable Execution:

There are quite a few of them, but what stands apart is his spectacular goal against Sporting Club de Goa in 2007/08 I-League encounter at Margaon. Honors were even in the Goan Derby till the 71st minute with both the clubs tied on 0-0 stalemate. That’s when Dempo was awarded a free kick around 25 yards out of Sporting goal for a rough tackle on Beto. The Brazilian magician stepped up to deliver the set-piece himself and blasted a right footed screamer which laned in to the top right corner giving the Sporting goalie Felix D’Souza absolutely no chance to stop the ball. Beto’s recent exploit from a similar bead ball situation against Mumbai FC in this year’s I-League campaign also deserves a mention here.

Beto – the Brazilian magician

3. Renedy Singh:
United Sikkim FC
DOB: 20th June, 1979 (age 32)
Height : 5′ 9” (1.76 m)
Playing Position : Left Winger / Attacking Midfielder

It’s impossible to compose an article on dead ball specialists in Indian football without the mention of this talented Manipuri midfielder who has scored a number of goals from stunning set-piece deliveries for Kolkata giants East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, JCT FC and Indian national team. He has often been compared to David Beckham because of his pin-point lofted deliveries which are a poacher’s delight in front of the goal. By the turn of the century, Renedy had established himself as one of the best free-kick executioners in the country and Renedy’s ability to cross the ball with both feet made him a mainstay in the Indian national team, especially after his excellent displays in India’s 2002 LG Cup success.

Most Memorable Execution:

It was a moment of brilliance which no Indian football fan will forget ever in his life. Even the man himself considers it to be one of his best goals ever. The 2009 Nehru Cup final against Syria went on to the extra time after neither of the teams managed to find the back of the net in the stipulated 90 minutes time. Indian coach Bob Houghton than made a substitution which would eventually change the course of the match when he brought in the experienced Renedy Singh in place of Anthony Perreira at the start of the second half of extra time.

The first half extra time was completely dominated by the visitors, but Renedy’s presence changed everything and India created a host of chances with Renedy combining like a well-oiled machine with skipper Baichung Bhutia. One such  move in the 114th minute earned India a free kick when Baichung was brought down outside the box on the left side. The script was written for Renedy to deliver one of his famous free-kicks and the skillful medio did not disappoint the fans. He unleashed a curling left footer which swerved delicately at the very last moment to beat the outstretched hands of Syrian goalie Mousab Bihousa to send the Ambedkar crowd into frenzy.

4. Robert Lalthalma:

Kingfisher East Bengal FC
DOB : 4th September, 1988 (age 22)
Height : 5′ 7” (1.71 m)
Playing Position : left back

The Red-&-Golds brand new recruit from Churchill Brothers, Robert Lalthalma, a promising young lad from the North-Eastern state of Mizoram, is our deserving fourth set piece specialist in Indian football. This former Churchill Brothers left back has showed some excellent demonstration of his fine set pieces skills that fans often compare him with his Brazilian namesake – Roberto Carlos. He has all the qualities to become India’s next Renedy Singh.

Most Memorable Execution:

Those who say Roberto Carlos’ bullet free kicks for Real Madrid and Brazil were the best ever from a left footed player, they should have come down to the Nehru Stadium at Fatorda. It was another Robert who replicated his Brazilian namesake’s thunderbolts in the Round-10 fixture against Air India. Robert Lalthalama fired in a rasping curler that bent round the wall with ferocious speed that nearly took the Air India keeper’s hand off.

5. Okorogor Praise

Air India FC
DOB : 12th April, 1988 (age 23)
Height : 5′ 11” (1.80 m)
Playing Position : Striker

The little known Nigerian, playing his first season in I-League last summer, has already made headlines because of his goal scoring abilities scoring 11 goals in his debut season for Air India FC. He is on the radar of a host of I-League clubs for the upcoming season not only because of his goal scoring prowess, but also for his perfect deliveries from set piece situations. Praise’s secret behind the lethal free-kicks has been the tremendous power which he can generate accompanied with venomous swing in both directions.

Most Memorable Execution:

It was arguably one of the best set piece deliveries the fans have witnessed in this recently concluded edition of the I-League campaign. In the round-19 encounter against Indian Arrows, Air India got a free kick around 25 yards out and the club’s top-scorer Praise stepped up to unleash a venomous curling delivery over the defense wall which swung in the air just enough to crash in to the back of the net at the far post leaving the Arrows goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu completely off-guard.

Honorable Mentions:

Steven Dias (Churchill Brothers)
Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal)
Lalrindike Ralte (Indian Arrows)
N.P. Pradeep (Mohun Bagan)
Odafa Okolie (Mohun Bagan)

~ Arijit Sil

Follow the author on Twitter: @arijitsil
Follow TheHardTackle on Twitter: @TheHardTackle