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Rejoice in Flight June 15, 2010

Posted by Casey in Soccer, World Cup.
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The Jabulani (Adidas’ soccer ball, created just for this World Cup) flies! The soccer produced in the World Cup thus far has been solid if unspectacular. Yet, teams have struggled to score, with the current average goals per game (1.6 end of play June 14) is on pace to set a new all-time low (2.21, Italia ’90). One reason seems to be that some players are struggling adapt to the flight of the new ball (whose name is Zulu for rejoice).  Over hit cross after over hit cross floats over the penalty box, over the heads of strikers and defenders only to run out of play, or be chased down by the touch line.  A selection of club leagues (those with sponsorship deals with Adidas) were given a chance to play with the ball from February on.  Meanwhile those leagues that use Nike balls have just begun training with the new ball in the month or so lead up to the World Cup.  Germany are taking the plaudits with their 4-0 thrashing of Australia, is it a coincidence that they have 4 months experience playing with this ball?  The ball appears to ‘move’ more in the air; potentially a product of a new manufacturing technique intended to improve aerodynamics. Nonetheless, the three goalie errors can’t possibly be blamed on the ball.  England’s Rob Green’s error, if you haven’t seen it, is probably the worst, but the other 2 (Paraguay’s Justo Villar and Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi) both cost their teams points.

The ball appears difficult to control off long passes, especially when it bounces and is especially difficult to keep down on long passes and long shots. Adidas has pointed their finger purely at the high altitude many matches are played at, but many aren’t buying that excuse.  Look for teams with a short passing game to adapt quicker, the Dutch and the Germans were both victorious yesterday, and expect sides like Brazil and Spain to get the goals flowing in the next couple days.  It would make sense that African teams (who used the ball at their continental championship in January and February might also adapt quickly).  However, it’s been a mixed start for Africa, with Cameroon’s 1-0 loss to Japan particularly disappointing.  Ivory Coast-Portugal today at 10 AM ET (ESPN’s coverage starts at 9:30) will leave the winner likely to qualify and the loser disparate for points.  The talismanic Ivorian Didier Drogba has been cleared to play with a cast protecting his fractured elbow, setting the stage for one of the most interesting star matchups of the tournament. Portugal has former World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo and a wealth of talent, but struggled through qualifying.  Should be part of another great day also featuring New Zealand-Slovakia (7:30 AM ET) and Brazil-North Korea (2:30 AM ET).