Wonder goal or fluke? Ronaldinho’s 2002 strike remembered

25 May 2017
  • Brazil star's free-kick sealed a 2-1 win in the 2002 quarter-final

  • England players insisted the shot was intended as a cross

  • Ronaldinho: "There was nothing lucky about it."

Was it brilliance? Or just blind luck?

That has been debated ever since Ronaldinho, over 35 yards out and wide on the right, sent a free-kick spinning over a floundering, unprepared David Seaman in 2002. The wrong-footed England goalkeeper could only watch as the ball curled into the top-left corner, taking Brazil through to the semi-finals at the Three Lions’ expense.

But while it remains one of the FIFA World Cup™’s most memorable goals, opinion has always been split on whether it was one of the best – or most fortuitous. The player himself was adamant at the time. "It was definitely a shot," he insisted. "It was Cafu who advised me beforehand that there was a space and that Seaman was standing in a very advanced position in the penalty area. It seemed only natural to have a go, and there was nothing lucky about it."

The England players, perhaps unsurprisingly, were more sceptical. Sol Campbell described it as "fluky", while Teddy Sheringham insisted it was "mis-hit". "It’s just a shame that a goal like that has sent us out of the tournament,” Sheringham added. “It was freakish."

David Beckham, a man with more than a few free-kick goals to his name, felt the same. "It was not his (Seaman’s) fault,” said the Manchester United star. “The goal was a fluke. It was a cross that ended up being a goal."

"I will never accept that it was intentional,” echoed Danny Mills, England’s right-back. “Rio [Ferdinand] asked Ronaldinho after the game if he meant to shoot and he just gave a shrug and grinned. His sheepishness suggests to me that it was a misguided cross."

In fact, that grin – as Ronaldinho later explained – reflected not that the goal was an intended cross, but rather a less-than-accurate shot. "When I hit the ball I wanted to shoot for goal - but maybe not exactly where the ball ended up,” he said. “If I'm being totally honest, I was aiming for the other side of the net.

So, was the goal a fluke or not? The final word goes to the scorer himself: “No, no, you can't say that, because I was aware of the keeper's position and went for the shot at goal. The fact that it did not go in exactly as I planned is secondary to the fact that I was having a go.

"What basically happened is that I hit my shot too hard and, as it travelled through the air, it swerved more and ended up looping over Seaman. There was nothing he could do about it and I suppose there was an element of luck involved.”

“But,” he added, “a goal is a goal!"

Did you know? Cafu’s shirt from this enthralling Brazil-England quarter-final is among the items from the 2002 World Cup on display in the FIFA World Football Museum.