Football fans around the world are gearing up for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off in Russia on the 14th June. Along with all the stories and rumours about the teams, players and possible injuries, tales about the official match ball are never far away as the tournament approaches. The official World Cup ball must be the cause of sleepless nights for goalkeepers before every tournament, with many rumours of how each ball swerves more than the last.
As you can imagine for us at AirPack, as fans of all things inflatable, the match ball is a source of much fascination!
The official match ball for 2018 is the ‘Telstar 18’, manufactured by Adidas, which pays tribute to Adidas’s first World Cup match ball, for the 1970 World Cup named the Telstar, after the early satellite.
The original Telstar was the first football to show a black and white pattern (similar to the panels on the satellite, hence the name). This was done to ensure that television audiences would know where the ball was while games were in play, due to many televisions at the time being limited to black and white. The 32-panel design of the ball, based on the work of Eigil Nielsen, has become pretty much the standard image now used as a symbol for football in almost all cultures.
In tune with our digital age the Telstar 18 features an embedded near-field communication (NFC) chip. This won’t be of use in the tournament itself, but fans who buy a Telstar 18 will be able to connect to the chip using a smart phone to access content and information that is unique to that ball, personalised and localised, providing the consumer with interactivity themed on the upcoming World Cup competition. It’s certainly a far cry from the old and heavy leather footballs of the past!
At each successive football tournament tales are rife about how the latest design of football behaves differently or unpredictably – but is this just a case of the goalkeepers getting their excuses in early?!
Probably the biggest controversy involved the Jabulani, the much-maligned ball used in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The ball featured ‘Grip’n’Groove’ technology on the ball’s surface, which was intended to provide an exceptionally stable flight and perfect grip. Not all goalkeepers and players agreed however (but then they never do!)
Adidas’ 2014 follow-up, the Brazuca, generally received positive reviews and little criticism, and despite initial complaints, a new study shows this year’s Telstar 18 should be just as good.
In keeping with the Telstar name the science behind the football’s design is fairly space age. Airflow, drag resistance, torque and spin all play a part in how the ball behaves. Tested in wind tunnels, the surface of the ball is carefully designed for the best performance.
When a football is kicked at high speeds, a thin layer of air hugs the ball. As the air flows toward the back of the ball, it creates chaotic, turbulent eddies swirling behind. This wind resistance slows the ball, and as it slows the airflow changes, with air separating from the ball at the sides, creating a larger wake. The wake then exerts more drag and the speed drops away further.
The number of panels the ball is made of also has an influence, with fewer panels and therefore seams, the ball is smoother, with less resistance. The 2018 match ball has just 8 panels, compared to 32 panels for the 1970 ball. To compensate the panels are slightly textured.
With all this science, no wonder there is always controversy over the official match ball design. But actually, it’s nothing new, and in the first World Cup final in 1930, Argentina and Uruguay argued over which ball to use. In the end they played with Argentina’s preferred ball in the first half and Uruguay’s choice in the second. The game ended 4–2 to Uruguay after they trailed 2–1 at half-time – so maybe there’s something in this after all!
Whatever people end up thinking about the 2018 match ball, let’s hope the 2018 tournament is remembered more for the quality and excitement of the play rather than the ball, and maybe, just maybe, also a famous victory for England!? (now I probably am getting carried away in to the realms of science fiction!)
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