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Building a Better World Cup Ball

Posted June 11, 2014 8:47 AM by HUSH

When we discuss foreign rivalries, there are a few that come to mind. England vs. France. Canada vs. USA. China vs. Japan. These are rivalries that have played out through politics, sports, and wars, and despite some contentious times, relations today are at least affable.

So when I mention the rivalry of USA vs. Ghana, it doesn't have much immediate appeal, but in the context of soccer it means everything. In just days, World Cup 2014 will commence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, because everyone wants a preview of how grossly unprepared the city will be for the 2016 Summer Olympics. (And you thought Sochi was bad.) The USA competes in the "Group of Death" that includes powerhouses Germany and Portugal, and Ghana, the country which eliminated the USA in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

Add to the fact that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, himself a German, said it's not possible for the USA to win the World Cup, I seriously question whether I'll even tune in.

But screw all that! This is national pride. And if the USA finishes within the top 16 it will be considered a major accomplishment. Besides, no technology is spared to make the FIFA World Cup the bull of all the sporting event cash cows, and that alone provides us with a glimpse of how technology is changing sports. Take for instance the soccer ball. There has been a never-ending need to 'fix' the world's most famous item of sports equipment, despite never really being broken.

In 2010, Adidas promised an advanced soccer ball for the World Cup with exceptional aerodynamics and a near-perfect spherical shape. The company collaborated with The Sports Technology Institute at Loughborough University in the U.K. and they developed the "Jabulani" soccer ball, which is the Zulu word for "celebrate." The Jabulani was pieced together from eight rounded body panels molded from ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermoplastic polyurethanes. The ball exterior featured grooves to improve handling, passing, and shot accuracy.

However, the ball was almost universally hated by the World Cup teams. Players noted that quick shots and far passes were unpredictable, and eventually FIFA acknowledged that the ball had a negative effect on the tournament. After the tournament, NASA's Fluid Mechanics Laboratory tested the ball and discovered that the Jabulani didn't begin knuckling until it reached 45 mph, about 15 mph more than traditional soccer balls, and therefore its unpredictability was more pronounced when kicked hard.

This year FIFA is using the Adidas Brazuca, which they promise is the truest flying ball-but for real this time guys, seriously. The manufacturing techniques have stayed the same, but Adidas has opted for a six-piece design where ball sections are shaped "propeller-like." Adidas introduced the ball into matches with a disguise, where it performed well, and a Japanese university conducted wind tunnel tests which indicated that the Brazuca is likely the most stable soccer ball ever produced. It's impossible to predict how the ball with react during a long deployment like the World Cup, but almost anything has to be an improvement over the Jabulani.

Also, each Brazuca is going to cost a little more than $340,000, because it is outfitted with a sensor. FIFA has implemented Hawk Eye in the 2014 World Cup, which is an instant replay system that most soccer leagues can't afford and consider unnecessary. Each goal will have seven cameras focused on it and linked to software-which is another $680,000-which can pinpoint a soccer ball's position on the pitch to within 5 millimeters. When a ball crosses a goal line, the referee's wristwatch will vibrate. After a full year of use in the English Premier League, the technology looks encouraging.

Anyhow, I will most certainly be tuning in to some of the Word Cup games in the coming weeks. Even if it's just to see players and managers fabricate controversies, it will at least be entertaining.

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#1

Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/11/2014 11:02 AM

Goal line technology should be affordable to most professional soccer leagues. At least at the top caliber of play. When they can afford millions of dollars to transfer a player, I do not see cost as an inhibitor. There can be some variations of the technology and the ball does not always have to be imbedded with sensor devices. Many times just a few simple cameras could suffice. Hockey has used such goal line technology for quite a long time and even junior teams will resort to the camera to confirm. Cameras can tell lots. In hockey if they cannot resolve it by cameras, the referees decision on the field will stand. That does not mean every league in hockey or soccer will have goal line technology. In fact most games get by quite comfortably with a referee's decision on the field.

Since soccer has evolved and the professional or world cup level of play takes a lot of effort to reach, player's deserve the best decisions. Goals in soccer are often hard to obtain and thus the need for accurate decisions is a safer ideal than letting a sideline judge who's view is often blocked by players, let a good goal slip by. Now we need some sort of embellishment technology that can detect these acts of cowardice play. Okay, let's allow coaches to ask for reviews similar to American football where the red flag is thrown on the field. And stop the clock.

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#2
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Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/12/2014 3:23 PM

I see little point in goal line tech when an attacker can dive to the ground without being touched and still draw a penalty. There are more goals scored as a result of wrong call penalties than wrong calls on the goal line. When they start reviewing film and penalizing the fakers, then it might be worth having the technology.

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#3
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Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/12/2014 4:04 PM

Agreed 100%. The fakers are destroying the game. We are starting to see the same embellishment in ice hockey. The refs need to be very good and there should be a chance to review the penalty in soccer. Especially, if it leads to a penalty shot. I would love to see the penalty shot replaced with a set piece from outside the box. Penalty shots to decide a game could also be done in such a way. The current penalty position is just a contest of two people with one player having an overwhelming advantage in pro soccer. It does not adhere to logic of a team sport. I could think of lots of other changes but the FIFA Mafia would not consider anything that affects the "beautiful game?" Diving is ugly in soccer. Perhaps if UEFA were to bow out some changes could be made.

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Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/12/2014 4:59 PM

Always remember, the Good Old Days weren't. Cheating is a human thing, not a modern human thing. Yeah, there's way too much diving in soccer, always has been. And soccer refs can really screw up a good match.

Won't it be a surprise if there are no matches that are decided by the ref this time?

Re settling ties, one old soccer fan suggested to me the best idea I've heard yet: play sudden death and reduce each team by one player every 5-10 minutes.

Does the article really say each ball costs over $200,000?

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#5
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Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/12/2014 5:24 PM

The ball is $340,000. Absurd!

Indoor soccer is played by reducing players in OT.

A few red cards for diving or sportsmanship violation may make players a little less likely to embellish. The reason they do not in outdoor, so I am told, is that players have run 90 minutes and may not have the gas to play overtime greater than 30 minutes. That could be corrected if they allowed unlimited substitutions like in games with young players. It would make the game different and more exciting.

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#6
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Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/12/2014 6:16 PM

True there was cheating, but not so much because the game was rougher, things now considered fouls were not in the old days especially when I used to go to Loftus Road to see my 3rd Div. QPR play, before Alec Stock took over and gave them delusions of grandeur. My brother still supports Fulham and my cousin still supports Chelski.

As you may deduce, I am an old fan.

I haven't given it much thought about the shoot out, but I like the idea of 2 on 3s; 2 forwards starting in the center circle against a goalie and two backs.

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#7
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Re: Building a Better World Cup Ball

06/12/2014 6:34 PM

I think we saw one of the dives that led to the second goal by Brazil. Fred should have been giving 9.7 for his dive. I hate that type of marginal decision by a ref. Alas.

My wife is a Brit and her father played in a pro team back in the 40 or 50s. Our family grew up with soccer and my wife and I ran a provincial women's team for about 7 years. We had a Scotty coach, pushed the girls hard and gained respect. I have twin daughters who both played at a top level. They were in Brazil with a team from Canada. And have played other formats in Europe. Profession women's soccer just means you get to work another job. Chelski LOL. Now they have Fabergas. Thanks for sharing.

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