Juninho's HOW-TO GUIDE; TOUCH OF CLASS: Juninho Unleashes One of His Trademark Free-Kicks
Byline: GRAHAM HUNTER
BY the time Walter Smith's scouting teamcompletetheirreportson Rangers' next two Champions League opponents, the fat folders will bebulging with information on two special, but apparently 'declining',footballers who share a terrifying talent.
Underlined again and again in bold marker pen will be the phrase 'Do NOTconcede free-kicks within 40 yards of goal' in the threat assessment for Lyonat the Stade Gerland and Barcelona at Ibrox.
Those two sides contain two of the natural diamonds of world football inJuninho Pernambucano and Ronaldinho - classy, talented but feared above all fortheir devastating ability to turn dead-ball situations into stunning goals.Eachof the two Brazilians has been scathingly criticised recently, victims of theirenormously high standards in previous seasons and the fact that their physicalcapabilities appear diminished.
But whatever the truth of the unforgiving analyses, one fact cannot be ignored- with the possible exceptions of Andrea Pirlo and a fit, on-form DavidBeckham, the two Brazilians are unequalled in world football.
The stats tell their own story. Since joining Barcelona in 2003, Ronaldinho hasplayed 165 matches scoring 87 goals - 17 of them from dead-ball situations.Juninho's ratio is still more startling. He has won France's Ligue 1 every yearsince signing for Lyon in 2001, notching up 237 games and 73 goals - 30 ofwhich arrived from set-pieces.
To save you doing the maths,it means that 41 per cent of Juninho's goals havecome from free-kicks. Watching the pair of them using Jonny Wilkinson-likeprecision in their preparation, approach and striking of the ball, the magiccan be disassembled and the process can appear scientific.
Which begs the question as to why Scotland has never really produced someonewho is exceptionally gifted or successful at getting the ball up and over awall in order to bend it past the goalkeeper? If it is a process, not a giftfrom God, then why can't we learn it?
Juninho is willing to explain his art a little bit and ritual fills everysecond from the moment the free-kick is won. Firstly,he absolutely hates anyonetalking to him once he's picked the ball up and starts to place it in the spotthe referee nominates. An artist needs total silence. Lost entirely in his ownworld, this is what happens next.
'I think about the ball,' he explains. 'I try to make sure that I feel totallysecure about how it is placed and where I start off in relation to it.
'I concentrate very hard, without staring, on where the wall is, how it hasbeen composed, where the keeper expects to be able to stand and, of course, Ivisualise the ball flying past him and into the net.
'The last two things I do before running up and striking it are plotting thearc of the ball into goal and concentrating very, very hard on where I willplace my standing foot because that fact is at least as important as how Istrike the ball. …