How Will New Ball Technology Impact the 2014 FIFA World Cup?

Ross Edgley@@rossedgleyFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2014

AP Images

Cast your minds back to 2010 in South Africa when FIFA announced the fate of the World Cup would be decided with the very latest in ball technology.

It was called the Jabulani ball and Adidas proudly launched it as a breakthrough in sports science.

Unfortunately their efforts were not appreciated by either fans or players, and according to the Telegraph, Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar even referred to it as a "supermarket ball."

Fast forward to Brazil 2014 and Adidas are set to try again, only this time with the Brazuca ball. But what is it, have their sports scientists got it right this time round and which players and teams will the new technology favour?

To understand this, we must first understand what exactly happened during the 2010 World Cup and why Fabio Capello was quoted by the BBC saying the Jabulani was the "worst ever ball."

Now, the main difference between the Jabulani ball and those that were more traditionally used was the number of panels from with which it was made.

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See, according to an article published on the National Geographic website, the Jabulani ball is made from eight panels which are glued together. This was very different to traditional footballs which were made with 32 panels and stitched together, but it was hoped the new design would make for a faster-paced and more exciting tournament. 

Unfortunately, despite looking far more advanced than its primitive, stitched ancestors, scientists from the University of Tsukuba discovered the problem with the Jabulani ball actually lay in its shiny, smooth, modern design.

This is because through wind tunnel and robot technology, they discovered that the smoother a football's design, the more prone it is to drag, a force that makes it dip and curve in unexpected ways, also known as "knuckling."

This essentially explains why many a shot at the 2010 World Cup ended up in the stands and why, if by some miracle it was on target, goalkeepers were unable to track its trajectory.

So with only six panels, surely the Brazuca will be even worse? Not according to a BBC article that claims the Brazuca has been purposely made "rougher" with added bumps on the surface to combat the drag and unpredictability players experienced with the Jabulani.  

Furthermore, after analysing the surface of the Brazuca and the Jabulani using a laser scanner, Dr Simon Choppin from Sheffield University told the BBC:

We found that the depth of the Jabulani's seams is around 0.48 mm, while the new Brazuca football has seams 1.56 mm deep - more than three times deeper. In addition, I measured the lengths of the seams on each ball by tracing them with string. The total length of the seams on the Jabulani is around 203cm and around 327cm on the Brazuca. Not only are the seams on the Brazuca deeper, but they're longer too.

What this means is the deeper and longer seams of the Brazuca, compared with the Jabulani, make it more like a traditional stitched football which is more predictable, so players have more control over the laws of physics.

This in turn means it's less likely to experience drag and we as fans are more likely to see footballing magic like we witnessed in 1997 during the Tournoi de France when Roberto Carlos bent a stitched, 32-panelled ball around a stunned French wall and past a speechless Fabien Barthez.

See, whether he knew it or not, Roberto Carlos actually put into practice the "Magnus effect" which would have been near impossible to do with the Jabulani but, in theory, will be possible with the Brazuca.

Named after the 19th-century German physicist Gustav Magnus, the Magnus effect is the term in physics that states whenever a ball is spinning through the air, the "Magnus force" will push it in a direction perpendicular to the direction of movement.

An article in Physics World, entitled "The physics of football," explains things more clearly:

Carlos kicked the ball with the outside of his left foot to make it spin anticlockwise as he looked down onto it. Conditions were dry, so the amount of spin he gave the ball was high, perhaps over 10 revolutions per second. This enabled the sideways Magnus force, which was bending the ball towards the goal, to come even more into effect.

From the study conducted at the University of Tsukuba, it seems unlikely Carlos would have had the same control over the Jabulani ball. But thankfully the additional bumps and deeper seams of the Brazuca seem to be working, evident from Neymar's beautifully placed free-kick against Panama in a pre-tournament friendly.

But free-kick specialists aside, which other teams will the new ball technology favour? Surprisingly, statistics reveal England who according to the Telegraph, are "actually one of the best short passing sides in Europe."

The article states only Spain, Germany and Belgium showcased a more impressive short passing game than England and that "Short passing statistics are a reasonable indicator of a side's quality. San Marino and Andorra, both winless in this qualification campaign, have the highest percentage of long passes."

Now, it must be noted the article doesn't take into account any other statistics such as possession or shots on target.

Also it could be argued that France and Italy, who both appeared below England on the table, possess better goalscoring and defensive capabilities. But based on the findings, it's safe to say the predictive and precise kicking properties of the Brazuca would favour a passing side such as England.

Finally, no study or statistic is needed to illustrate the advantage teams would gain from having already played with the Brazuca or something similar. According to FIFA's website, Lionel Messi and Iker Casillas were both involved in the testing.

What's more, it bears a close resemblance to the technology used in the Tango 12 ball which was used in the UEFA Euro 2012, the Cafusa ball used in the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 and the recent UEFA Champions League official match ball.

So, based on the science, it appears players should be excited by the unveiling of the Brazuca ball.

Whether it gives England a competitive edge like the Telegraph claims remains to be seen.

But one thing is for sure, according to all the above evidence, fans and physicists should be on the edge of their seats should free-kick specialists such as Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo get a chance on the edge of the box.

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