This is the third of three posts at the mid-point of the tournament. The first post discussed how countries that sell players are doing much better than countries that buy players and how immigration allows buying countries to get players from selling countries via granting citizenship. The second touched on the Ant vs Grasshopper styles of play, how neither effort nor flash alone is sufficient to get to the final eight; you need both.
This third posting is simply about the ball in wet weather, AKA “that damn ball.”
I can’t find all the scientific data I’d like, so this is a qualitative assessment. We know the Jabulani is of average size, but its weight is closer to the maximum, so it’s heavier in feel than most:
• Circumference: FIFA Standard: 68.5-69.5cm, Jabulani: 69.0 +/- 0.2
• Water Absorption: A ball is pressed and rotated in water 250 times: FIFA Standard: max 10% weight increase. Jabulani: 0% weight increase
• Weight: FIFA standard: 420-445 grams, Jabulani: 440 +/- 0.2 grams. By comparison, the 2002 ball, the Fevernova, weighs 435 g.
I see two fundamental problems with it. The first is that it’s dense and waterproof. Couple this with the mandatory irrigation of the field right before the game (who knows why, it’s winter), and this dense, waterproof ball is skipping off the field. A very common way to attack is to chip the ball into the corner of the opponents’ half for a teammate to run on to and either cross or dribble. The Jabulani is not behaving the way a normal ball does, which is:
The ball leaves the passer’s foot and flies through the air with backspin. It lands and “checks up”, the rotation slows and it bounces a second time, slowing its trajectory and now rolling along with topspin but at a slower rate of rotation. The ball now rolls along the ground towards the end line, stopping right before or after crossing the boundary. A pursuing player can catch up to it and cross it.
The Jabulani leaves the passer’s foot with backspin, hits the ground, skids like a skipped stone and leaves the field of play. It doesn’t check up because it’s dense and the waterproofing seems to interact with the wet, short grass in a way that prevents it from settling down.
That is problem one.
Problem two has been written about by many: it’s unpredictable in flight:
“The ball is a problem. You can’t anticipate which direction it is going to go in. It is difficult for defenders to deal with and you can’t take your eye off the ball until the very last second.” – Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Japan, defender)
“It’s a disaster… It moves so much and makes it difficult to control. You jump up to head a cross and suddenly the ball will move and you miss it!” – Giampaolo Pazzini (Italy, forward)
Imagine you have the most powerful explosive ever known to man. It will annihilate your opponents. It’s cheap and easily acquired. The only catch is, it’s so explosive, any bump or jostle will set it off. A breeze will do it, or even a slight change in temperature. How much of it would you order?
You probably wouldn’t want anything to do with it. That’s what is happening with this ball. For every goal that’s flummoxed the keepers, there have been ten times as many failed attacks caused by the erratic flight of the ball when played from attacker to attacker.
In trying to make it hard to defend, Adidas has made a ball that’s hard to attack with. Pathetic.
FIFA acknowledges problems with ball: “Scoring was down by 16 goals in the first round compared to 2006: 117-101. However, teams played a more defensive style in the opening group stage in South Africa, so whether the ball is a major factor is difficult to measure.”
Worldview: Why Has World Cup 2010 Been The Lowest Scoring Tournament For Years? Frustrated fans, perplexed players…
2010: 398 shots (132 on target) 33%
2006: 352 shots (159 on target) 45%
2002: 357 shots (181 on target) 51%