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Heads’ Up! Aerodynamic Adidas Ball Confounds Cup Goalies

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Nigeria vs. France
France's forward Olivier Giroud, right, and Nigeria's defender Efe Ambrose vie for the ball during the World Cup match at Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia, on June 30, 2014. Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

July 3 (Bloomberg) -- Adidas AG’s Brazuca ball looks like one of the factors in the goal glut at the World Cup.

The ball, made of six thermally bonded panels each shaped like a banana skin, is more aerodynamic than its predecessor, the Jabulani, which wobbled in the air more, according to a study by the Institute of Health and Sport Science at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

The Brazuca was designed to generate more scoring because goals are the “passion” of soccer, according to Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina. There have been 154 goals in 56 matches in Brazil so far, an average of 2.75 per game. That’s more than in the entire previous tournament in 2010 and is on course to beat the 1998 record of 171.

“We goalkeepers are trying to stop the ball as best we can,” Ospina told reporters at the team’s Sao Paulo training camp. “It’s pretty difficult.”

Colombia’s James Rodriguez, the tournament’s top scorer with five goals, struck a 25-yard (23-meter) shot that traveled in an arc into the net in a 2-0 win against Uruguay. In another round-of-16 game, Wesley Sneijder fired in a 15-yard shot that flew past Mexico goalie Guillermo Ochoa “like a missile” as the Netherlands rallied to beat Mexico 2-1, according to a match report in the Daily Mail newspaper.

The Brazuca travels more rapidly than the previous ball at speeds of between 10 meters per second and 25 meters per second, according to Sungchang Hong, who wrote the University of Tsukuba study with Takeshi Asai.

“It may be a little in favor of strikers” against goalkeepers, Sungchang wrote in an e-mail.

NASA Study

While some observers attribute the higher-than-usual goal tally to everything from better conditioned players to more attacking tactics, a study by NASA also shows the ball is more aerodynamic than its predecessor.

According to Rabi Mehta, a NASA aerodynamics expert who has studied the ball’s trajectory, the new Adidas ball reduces the amount of “knuckling” -- the wobbling that occurs when the seams collide with air flows.

“The Brazuca exhibited relatively stable and regular flight trajectories,” the Japanese study found after using a robot to strike the ball into a wind tunnel. The Jabulani was “unstable,” the study found.

After the Jabulani, which means “rejoice” in Zulu, was criticized for wobbling at the 2010 event in South Africa -- England goalie David James called it “rubbish” -- Adidas spent 2 1/2 years testing the Brazuca, which is slang for “Brazilian” in Portuguese.

Goal Rush

Adidas received positive feedback from players who tried out the ball before the tournament, according to Alan McGarrie, a spokesman for the Herzogenaurach, Germany-based company. Spain’s Pepe Reina, one of the goalkeepers to test the Brazuca, called it “a fair ball,” McGarrie added.

“It is not our place to say whether Brazuca has had an impact on the number of goals at the tournament,” McGarrie said. “But we are pleased if people think it has contributed to a great World Cup so far.”

Netherlands beat Spain 5-1 in the first round of the tournament, and among other routs Germany downed Portugal 4-0 and France beat Switzerland 5-2. The quarterfinals start tomorrow, when France plays Germany in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil faces Colombia in Fortaleza.

Amid the goal rush, the ball’s design may have rendered extinct a shot popular in Brazil, according to former Nigeria coach Sunday Oliseh: the swerving one that was the trademark of defender Roberto Carlos.

“We haven’t seen any of those,” Oliseh said.

(A previous version of this story corrected Roberto Carlos’s name in the second-to-last paragraph,)

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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