Roberto Carlos' Phenomenal Free Kick Explained!

Posted by Grey Thursday, September 30, 2010

One of football's most amazing phenomenons explained. By physicists. And French physicists, to be exact.

In 1997, Brazil's free-kick expert, Roberto Carlos scored an arguably, his most amazing goal in an unbelievable free kick during the inaugural match of the Tournoi de France, a friendly international football tournament that was held in France ahead of the 1998 World Cup, leaving French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez absolutely stunned in his track. The shot, first motioning to the right, curved impossibly sharp leftwards to clinch the goal, achieving what many pundits referred to as "the goal that defied physics".



However, the French physicists, perhaps while in a process of figuring a scientific explanation on why the French international team absolutely sucked at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, have discovered the physics equation to proved that the goal was no fluke. And the feat can be repeated, again and again, should someone mastered the particular spiral trajectory, as indicated in a study published in the New Journal of Physics.

On to the scientific jabberwocky, thanks to the ever-diligent BBC:

"We have shown that the path of a sphere when it spins is a spiral," lead researcher Christophe Clanet from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris told BBC News.



Dr Clanet described this path as a "snail-shell shaped trajectory", with the curvature increasing as the ball travels.

Because Roberto Carlos was 35m (115ft) from the goal when he kicked the ball, more of this spiral trajectory was visible. So the apparently physics-defying sharp turn of the ball was actually following a naturally tightening curve.

Dr Clanet and his colleague David Quere were studying the trajectory of bullets when they made their sporting discovery.

They used water and plastic balls with the same density as water to "simplify the problem".

This approach eliminated the effects of air turbulence and of gravity and revealed the pure physical path of a spinning sphere.

"On a real soccer pitch, we will see something close to this ideal spiral, but gravity will modify it," explained Dr Clanet.

"But if you shoot strongly enough, like Carlos did, you can minimise the effect of gravity."

The crucial aspect of the wonder strike, according to the scientists, was the distance the ball had to travel to beat Fabian Barthez.

"If this distance is small," said Dr Clanet, "you only see the first part of the curve.

"But if that distance is large - like with Carlos's kick - you see the curve increase. So you see the whole of the trajectory."


So it seems, with Carlos' countless similar goals, successful soccer players might just kick any physicist's collective asses on any given days.

Source: New Journal of Physics via BBC

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