A newcomer to soccer may be surprised to learn that the ball has changed significantly over the years. Individual pro soccer leagues have their own protocol concerning the most important piece of equipment, but FIFA has the final say over the World Cup ball. Since the 1930’s, World Cup soccer balls have changed several times to incorporate new manufacturing technologies and to keep up with the evolution of the sport itself. The original World Cup ball was made of 12 individual panels of brown leather sewn together and bears little resemblance to a modern soccer ball.
Beginning in the 1970’s, Adidas has manufactured the balls for the last 11 World Cup competitions. The first Adidas ball had 32 leather panels in the classic black and white design. In the decades that followed, there were changes in the number of panels, use of supplemental man made materials to increase speed and reduce water retention, and a move from stitching the panels together to the use of thermal bonding.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer ball , named ‘Jabulani’ by Adidas (‘Jabulani’ is from the Zulu language of Africa and means ‘To Celebrate’) was a technological marvel of 21st century industrial design. It was comprised of 8 panels that were actually molded together which results in what Adidas proudly declared as ‘perfect roundness’. It also had ridges and texturing on the ball added during the manufacturing process. The concern was that the fewer panels would have resulted in a ball that was too slick, and the texturing gave the ball a certain ‘roughness’ or ‘grip’ which helps maintain balance during flight. If you want to get FIFA World cup predictions on the ball, you can get those too.
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil just a year away the soccer world is anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the Adidas ball designed specifically for that competition. At this point the only thing that is known about the ball is it's name—it will be called 'Brazuca'. This name was chosen in a vote of Brazilan soccer fans over 'Bossa Nova' and 'Carnavalesca'. Adidas has released pictures of a 'mocked up' ball but they've kept the details about its construction under wraps.
So how could this impact FIFA World Cup soccer? All of the technological advances in ball engineering are designed to improve control, accuracy and speed. In theory, that means more goals. More goals obviously means higher scores, but also that good teams have an easier time putting up margins on less talented sides.
Before the 2010 World Cup there was borderline outrage among players—simply put, no one was happy with it. Goalkeepers said it was harder to see and stop. Scorers said it was harder to shoot. Midfielders said it was harder to pass. Once the games began, however, there were few complaints.
So once the new 2014 FIFA World Cup ball is released expect complaints from every quarter. That will be before the players start to practice with and gain a familiarity with the new balls. Once the competition itself begins it will most likely be 'business as usual' and there will be nary a word about the ball itself.