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Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup 2006: the high-tech ball

Named +Teamgeist, German for "team spirit," the soccer ball features a radical new design that sports just 14 panels—the first departure from the iconic 32-panel ball that's been used in the World Cup for the past 36 years.
Adidas, the new ball's designer, touts it as the most technologically advanced—and roundest—soccer ball ever made.
Tournament officials say the ball will lead to more goals, providing extra excitement for the World Cup's billions of spectators.
Some star players have endorsed the new design, including England's captain, David Beckham, known for his trademark swerving shots when shooting a goal. "It goes where you want it to go, and that's important," the Adidas-sponsored player said in a press release. But some players and sports scientists aren't so sure about how the new ball is going to perform. Critics say the ball is too light and aerodynamic, and it may behave unpredictably and create problems for goalkeepers.

The most common soccer ball design—originated by an Adidas model called Telstar—was introduced at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. It is made up of 20 white hexagons and 12 black pentagons stitched together into a sphere. As well as using fewer panels, Adidas dispensed with any stitching for +Teamgeist, instead using a heating and gluing process to create a watertight seal. The manufacturer says this new feature gives the ball the same feel whatever the playing conditions, rain or shine.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, an England goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, said, "There's a lot of difference—it's very goalkeeper unfriendly. It's very light and moves a lot in the air."
He might have a point.
Ken Bray of the Sport and Exercise Science Group at the University of Bath in England is the author of How to Score: Science and the Beautiful Game. He says there may be occasions when the new ball behaves unpredictably. "Every World Cup we get goalkeepers who say this particular ball moves in a peculiar way," he said. "This year, however, I think there might be something in what they're saying, because we've got a very different ball compared to the standard hexagon-pattern ball." Bray says the reduced number of panels and seams on the +Teamgeist ball could potentially cause problems. "Surprisingly, it's the seams between the panels that gives [a soccer ball] aerodynamic stability," he said.

James Owen for National Geographic News


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