If you take a free kick and your shot hits the crossbar, probably the next thing you’d expect is that the ball would bounce back into the pitch or end its run into the stands.
Well, think again. This is the story of one of the most incredible set pieces taken in Serie A and his author was not Diego Maradona, Roberto Carlos, or Sinisa Mihajlovic. The man who conjured such an unforgettable free-kick screamer that defied the laws of ballistics is Juan Alberto Barbas of Argentina, better known as “Beto” Barbas to his Lecce fans.
Lecce was a fun place to be for a football fan towards the end of the 1980s. For three seasons in a row, between 1988 and 1991, the Apulian minnows managed to resist in Serie A and collect a few illustrious scalps along the way. Their efforts culminated with their best league placement ever – a 9th place in the 1988/89 season under guidance of the iconic Carlo Mazzone.
Beto Barbas played in Lecce from 1985 to 1990 and perhaps he would have stayed more, had he not fallen off the new Giallorossi coach Zgbiniew Boniek’s grace. He had landed in Lecce together with his fellow countryman Pedro Pablo Pasculli and remained in Salento even when the club was immediately relegated following their historical first season in the top-flight.
Both were Argentina internationals, having featured alongside Maradona at the World Cup 1982 (Barbas) and 1986 (Pasculli). But the team also lined up some very promising youngsters like Lecce born-and-raised Antonio Conte (who needs no further introduction) and future Azzurri callup Francesco Moriero.
With Mazzone at the helm, Lecce captured some sounding wins over Napoli and Juventus en route to conquering their historical ninth place in 1989. The following season went much worse than that as the Salentini ended a disappointing 14th which was barely enough to stay clear of the drop zone.
Still, there were some fun days in Lecce even during the 1989/90 campaign. That was the season when our unbelievable set piece took place.
On January 7, 1990, Lecce welcomed Genoa at the Via del Mare Stadium. One week earlier, they had been crushed by Juventus, who had put three unanswered goals into the Salentini’s net. But Lecce had left the Stadio Comunale with a bitter taste as they hit the crossbar three times.
The Lecce President Franco Iurlano had a simple explanation to that, the same that any good believer in Southern Italy would have in those days: His team had been jinxed! And so, to remove the hex, he took his boys to a secluded sanctuary in the Salento backwoods to get a blessing ahead of the Genoa game. Would that be enough to break the curse?
It took only nine minutes to find out. Lecce were awarded a free kick some 40 meters far from the Rossoblu goal. Going for a shot from such a sidereal distance seemed daring enough already, but Barbas went all in a conjured a monstruous right-foot rocket. The ball run, run towards the opposition goal and then…it hit the crossbar! AGAIN!
But then, the magic happened. Rather than bouncing back or crashing off target, the ball took a bizarre trajectory and darted straight up in the air, like it was a real rocket taking off. Up and up, it went, then it started to descend. At that point, the Genoa goalkeeper Attilio Gregori felt sure that the ball would hit the top netting and theatrically lifted his arms to exonerate himself from any potential corner-leading ball touch.
He should not have done that. He just had the time to see the ball plummet onto the goal line and then bounce past it. He was speechless, just like all his Genoa teammates. They had never seen anything like that.
Five minutes later, Lecce made it two as midfielder Paolo Benedetti beat Gregori again, this time with a clinical shot that left no room to any alleged divine intervention. Davide Fontolan halved the gap for Genoa with four minutes to go, setting the score at 2-1. But all this was overshadowed by that incredible free kick from Barbas, one that was a blend of power, precision, luck and, who knows, maybe a little help from above…
January 7, 1990 – Serie A 1989-90 Round 18
LECCE – GENOA 2-1
SCORERS: 9′ Barbas (L), 14′ Benedetti (L), 86′ D. Fontolan (G)
|LECCE: Terraneo, Garzya, Marino, Conte, Levanto, Carannante, Moriero, Barbas, Pasculli (75′ Miggiano), Benedetti, Vincze (Negretti, Monaco, D’Onofrio) Coach: Mazzone|
GENOA: Gregori, Torrente, Caricola, Collovati, Perdomo, Signorini, Eranio, Ruotolo, D. Fontolan, Ruben Paz (46′ Fiorin), Urban (Braglia, Rossi, Fasce, Rotella) Coach: Scoglio
REFEREE: Mr. Frigerio from Milano
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Terraneo, Moriero (L), Torrente, Caricola (G); Red Card: Miggiano (L)