"It's magic, because at that moment everybody is watching and waiting for you.”
Decades on, the memory of preparing to take a free-kick still brings a smile to Zico’s face. And no wonder. In the history of the game, few players’ set pieces have been awaited with such excitement and, for opposing keepers, dread than his. As the great Brazilian explained earlier this year during a visit to Chelsea, where he advised countryman Willian on his dead-ball technique, his success in such situations was down to practice making perfect.
“I would often train on my own and three times a week I would take something like 60-100 free-kicks after training,” he said. “I’d be there for 20 minutes, taking them from the left, then from the middle, then from the right.”
His success rate, as Leonardo – a former team-mate with both Flamengo and Brazil – remembered, was astounding. “In training, he used to place two shirts - one at the left [top] corner, one on the other corner - and he had to knock them down,” said the former AC Milan star. “He took 50 free-kicks and he took the shirts down 30-35 times.”
The angle of the above image, showing Zico’s brilliant set piece goal against Scotland in the 1982 FIFA World Cup™, demonstrates perfectly the amount of curl Brazil’s No10 was able to generate. The fact he found the net where he did was all the more impressive for the fact that Alan Rough, the goalkeeper seen rooted to his line, knew exactly what to expect. "Zico's free-kick was world class and it was the second he had scored against me like that, after one just like it in a friendly we played in the Maracana five years earlier,” the Scotland keeper explained.
Knowing what’s coming, though, doesn’t always offer a decisive advantage in stopping it. As Rough said: "There are times you have to accept that you are beaten by such quality, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It was in off the top corner and was a delivery the like of which you would then never see in the British game.”
Zico’s was, in fact, merely one of several outstanding goals in this thrilling Seville encounter, a match in which Scotland took the lead before succumbing to the South Americans’ irresistible brand of football.
“They were playing at walking pace – that’s one of my lasting memories,” said Rough, reflecting on the Scots’ eventual 4-1 defeat. “Even before the game started, we were soaked in sweat and they were standing there fresh as daisies, not a bead on them. They had so much class it was unbelievable. We knew what they could do, and hoped they didn’t do it against us. But they did!”