Adidas’s World Cup Ball Leaves Goalkeepers Struggling

England's goalkeeper Robert Green
England's goalkeeper Robert Green reacts after missing a goal during their Group C first round 2010 World Cup football match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg. Photographer: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

England goalkeeper Robert Green can’t blame the new Adidas AG soccer ball for his fumble that gave the U.S. a 1-1 tie in the team’s World Cup match, according to the supplier.

Goalkeepers expressed concerns about the new “Jabulani” model before the event started, and Green’s inability to catch the ball evened the Group C match two days ago. Yesterday, Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi pushed Robert Koren’s shot into his own goal, giving Slovenia a 1-0 victory. Both goalkeepers failed to block the slow shots even though they looked well positioned.

Adidas, based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, says the high- profile mistakes have nothing to do with the new ball. It was designed for the World Cup in South Africa, and the company says it’s the roundest yet. Goalkeepers say the 440-gram Jabulani, which means “to rejoice” in the Zulu language, is unsteady and unpredictable in the air.

“It’s rubbish,” England backup goalkeeper David James said in a June 12 interview in Rustenburg. “It’s just not a very good football. But everyone’s gotta play with the same ball and those who can manipulate it the best have an advantage.”

Adidas, which is sponsoring the world’s most-watched sporting event, said the players have had enough time to get used to the ball, which was released at the beginning of the year. The ball fits the criteria laid down by soccer’s governing body, FIFA, Adidas spokesman Erik van Leeuwen said yesterday.

“People have to adapt themselves to it,” Van Leeuwen said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg. “It’s nothing to do with the Jabulani.”


Adidas has been making the World Cup ball since Mexico hosted the event in 1970. Jabulani is the first ball for the tournament to be molded of eight “thermally bonded 3D panels, creating a perfect sphere, replacing previous models with flat panels, according to FIFA’s website. The ball has an aerodynamic profile enhancing control and stabilizing flight, it said.

Bayer AG, the inventor of Aspirin, supplied adhesives and coating for Jabulani, the company said.

Ghana will fire more shots at goal to exploit the ball’s irregular movement, coach Milovan Rajevac said after beating Serbia 1-0 in Pretoria yesterday. So far, the nine goals scored in the first eight matches are the lowest number at that stage in the tournament’s past 20 years.

“When it comes to the football, you can see how dangerous some shots can be,” Rajevac told reporters. “We’ve had several surprises and wanted to shoot at goal as much as possible because every opportunity could be a goal.”

‘Tested and Proven’

All participating countries approved the new ball in February, FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot told reporters at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg today.

“It has been tested and proven,” Maingot said. “There are no official complaints to FIFA I’m aware of.”

England’s Green would not have let the ball previously used slip, Serbia’s goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic said in an interview yesterday. “Green wouldn’t have made a mistake with a normal ball,” he said.

“I don’t want to make any excuses about the ball,” Green told reporters after the game. “It might have moved, I don’t know.”

Six of the 10 stadiums being used in the tournament are above 1,200 meters (3,937 feet), where the air is thinner. That may be affecting the movement of the ball, Van Leeuwen said. A ball kicked at altitude travels 5 percent faster than one kicked in Durban, which is at sea-level, he said.

Green’s mistake was “not because of the ball,” Van Leeuwen of Adidas said.

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