Soccer is part art, part science. When it comes to the adidas Brazuca, the revolutionary ball bound for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the artists (players) have already offered near universal praise for the ball’s true flight and touch. Now the scientists are weighing in with research that backs up player perception.
“The goal of making any soccer ball is to make a perfect sphere,” says John Eric Goff, Professor of Physics at Lynchburg College and the author of Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports.
“What adidas has done over the last few World Cups has been to replace the traditional design (32 panels) with fewer and fewer panels. … It’s impossible to have a perfect sphere, but the technology is getting it to a better approximation.”
Goff was recently featured on NPR’s All Things Considered detailing his analysis amassed from launching the Brazuca at a wide range of speeds, 16 to 78 mph in a wind tunnel.
Read his research paper here.
In our interview, Goff told us that adidas was successful with the Brazuca because they balanced fewer panels, just six, which creates more roundness, while still increasing the seam length, which reduces the knuckling effect found and critiqued in the Jabulani at 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
“The Brazuca, I think, is a better ball because even though they’ve reduced the panel number by two (compared to the Jabulani), the seams are kind of boomerang shaped, so the total seam length is 68 percent longer.”
The seams add roughness, which create more stability, especially for strikes traveling between 30 and 55 miles per hour, where the Jabulani foiled goalkeepers.
The Brazuca is also textured, much like the adidas Finale13 used for UEFA Champions Leauge play, which reduces the drag. The Jabulani didn’t have uniform dimples, meaning the ball had one type of airflow on one side and a different flow on the other, which caused it to wobble.
Another key difference between the Brazuca and Jabulani comes when striking both balls from 20 yards out at about 45 miles per hour. The Brazuca will fly about a yard higher than the Jabulani because it has less drag.
Goalkeepers will be used to the flight, though, Goff says, because by the time the first Brazuca is kicked in a match in Brazil, they will have played and practiced with the ball for months.
“I think they are going to be adjusted to it by the time the World Cup starts,” he said. “The US is going to be more worried about the group they are in than the ball.”
Find more of Goff’s work on his blog. How do you think the Brazuca compares to the Jabulani? Tell us in the comments section below.