Where have all the free-kick goals gone? Remembering Platini's EURO 1984 strike

Memphis Depay (left) taking a free kick for the Netherlands against France at EURO 2024
Memphis Depay (left) taking a free kick for the Netherlands against France at EURO 2024Profimedia
Michel Platini's free kick into the Spanish net during the 1984 European Championship final may seem like something from another world to today's football fans, and not just because of the 40-year-old footage. Goals from direct free kicks are practically unheard of in today's game, with not a single one being scored at this year's tournament so far.

When British newspaper The Guardian recapped the group stage of the tournament, it was the first to mention this fact. It is somewhat worrying. After all, taking a free kick is a separate discipline. It requires not only leg strength and hours of training but also perfect technique and intelligence.

With the decline of the classical role of the playmaker, this skill, cultivated by the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, is disappearing.

In the aforementioned 1984 European Championship final, Platini scored a famous one and memories of that goal are coming back to life as France and Spain face off on Tuesday in the biggest competitive match between the two nations since then.

Back then, there was a 57-minute wait for a goal in the Parc des Princes before Platini stood a metre behind the 18-yard box and fired the ball around the wall and inside the right post beyond Luis Arconada.

When Platini became UEFA president long afterwards, he asked Arconada before the Euro 2008 final, in which Spain were preparing to take on Germany, to be his guest for the match. "I thought it was nice to invite a former rival," he explained.

Platini tried to make light of the moment, which had weighed so heavily on Spain for almost a quarter of a century. "He has nothing to blame himself for. It was a perfect shot," he joked. 

Moving back to the present day, there have been 108 goals scored at Euro 2024, but none directly from a free-kick. In the history of the European Championship, this has only happened once - back in 1972 when there were only four games played.

Eight years ago at Euro 2016 (when the number of teams increased from 16 to 24), a record four free-kicks ended up in the net, but at Euro 2020, only one was converted.

Polish skills coach Bartek Sylwestrzak has dedicated an incredible 24 years to the study of direct free kicks. He is one of the world's leading experts on the subject, focusing mostly on how to strike the ball correctly.

"If people understood what an opportunity this provides, if the players had been trained to do it in preparation... but the coaches and analysts, who don't know much about it, say: 'Just don't shoot from free kicks!' It's absurd and a huge missed opportunity," says the specialist, who has had stints at progressive clubs like Midtjylland and Brentford.

As an example, Sylwestrzak cites West Ham midfielder James Ward-Prowse, who is enjoying regular success out of the situation. "It's just that he's the exception. Every team should have two or three such players."

The statistics underline his words. Over the past 15 years, the proportion of direct shots on target from free kicks in the attacking third across Europe's top five leagues has fallen from 25% (one in four) to 19% (not even one in five), according to The Guardian.

Before the climax of Euro 2024, however, there is still hope that fans can see some success from a direct free kick. The French are the masters of this situation, dominating the historical statistics of the tournament both in the number of goals scored from direct free kicks (five) and those conceded (together with England, three).

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