Roberto Carlos’s wonder goal : Did it defy the laws of physics?


It has been eighteen long years since Roberto Carlos scored that amazing goal against France but it still eludes us whether the free-kick was against all laws of physics.

It was a match in Tournoi de France when Brazil got the free-kick against France. Roberto Carlos placed the ball, had a look at the goal and took the spot-kick. And what a shot it was! The free-kick curved so sharply that it left goalkeeper Fabian Barthez standing still and looking puzzled. Before we proceed further, let us have a look at the goal once again.

So, now, the most important question. Was it a magic? A fluke? A shot that defied all laws of physics? Well, many people assumed that the goal was simply a fantastic fluke but few years ago, a study published in the New Journal of Physics discussed the goal in detail.

It was an article by a team of some French scientists who tried to unearth the mystery. To start with, they developed an equation to describe the trajectory of the ball exactly. Without going into the detail of their research, let us discuss it in plain language.

According to the scientists, if a ball is kicked hard enough, with the appropriate spin and, crucially, if the kick is taken sufficiently far from goal, then same thing can happen once again.

The team showed the path of the ball and described it as a “snail-shell shaped trajectory”, with the curvature increasing as the ball travels. The  lead researcher Christophe Clanet from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris told, “We have shown that the path of a sphere when it spins is a spiral”.


So the apparently physics-defying sharp turn of the ball was actually following a naturally tightening curve. The most important aspect of the wonder strike was the distance the ball had to travel to beat Fabian Barthez. If this distance is small, one can only see the first part of the curve. Dr. Clanet said, “But if that distance is large – like with Carlos’s kick – you see the curve increase. So you see the whole of the trajectory.”

However, the ball should not follow an ideal spiral path and should hit the ground soon, because gravity will modify it. At this point, Dr. Clanet said, “But if you shoot strongly enough, like Carlos did, you can minimize the effect of gravity.”

So, that’s how Roberto Carlos was able to score this amazing goal. Distance and enormous power did the trick and nothing went against the laws of Physics.

You know the trick now – try to score a similar goal, take a video and let us know!


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