Gradual evolution: the history behind the World Cup balls

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Gradual evolution: the history behind the World Cup balls

Just as the players competing in the World Cup receive a lot of attention, so do does the official ball, of which the design and technology greatly influences the performance of the players.
At this year’s World Cup, the German firm Adidas, which has been providing the official World Cup ball since 1970, is again the provider. The 2006 World Cup’s official ball is called “Teamgeist,” a German loanword, which means “team spirit” in English.
Teamgeist is the first stitchless ball ever produced for the World Cup. Using a gluing and heat-bonding process to create a watertight seal, Adidas said the ball’s 14-panel configuration, compared to the previous 32, has reduced the number of touch-points ― where panels come in contact with each other. That, Adidas claims, makes the ball react three times more accurately when kicked, compared to the ball used at the 2002 World Cup. The 2006 ball is said to retain almost the same mint condition as before game use, even after 2,000 kicks.
In recent World Cups, whenever a new ball was introduced goalies have complained that the ball favored the players as it traveled faster when kicked and moved in unpredictable directions.
The history of the official soccer balls provided by Adidas started in 1970. Called the Telstar (Star of Television), the official ball was noted for its 32 black and white panels, which made it more visible on the black and white television screens of the time. The 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico was the first World Cup to be broadcast live on television.
The ball was made completely of leather and its design to this day remains the common design of soccer balls all over the world.
In 1974, at the German World Cup, two Adidas match balls were used. Telstar was used again with a new black logo replacing the gold one used on the previous design. An all-white version named Adidas Chile was also used. The materials and technology used in the Telstar and Chile were identical to those used four years earlier.
In 1978, at the World Cup in Argentina, the Adidas Tango was introduced. It became a soccer design classic. Twenty panels with “triads” created the impression of 12 identical circles. This design was used for the following five World Cup tournaments. The Tango also featured improved weather resistance qualities.
The Tango Espana soccer ball was the official soccer ball at the 1982 Spain World Cup. The new ball had rubber overlaid on the seams to prevent water from seeping through. It was the first ball with water-resistant qualities. General wear from kicking, however, meant the rubber began to wear out after a short time and needed to be replaced during the game. It was also the last genuine-leather World Cup ball.
At the 1986 Mexico World Cup, Adidas introduced the Azteca soccer ball, a completely new model. The Azteca was a hand-sewn ball and for the first time, a synthetic material rather than leather was used. The ball consisted of an outer polyurethane coat and three inner layers which mutually reinforced one another with their different structures. These were intended to ensure the ball’s resistance, its ability to retain its shape and its waterproof properties during the game.
The Etrvsco was the official soccer ball for the 1990 World Cup held in Italy. This ball was a high-tech product manufactured entirely from high-quality synthetic fiber. The innermost covering consisted of textiles impregnated with latex for form stability and resistance to tearing. The neoprene layer made the ball water-tight and an outer skin made of polyurethane gave abrasion resistance and good rebound properties.
In 1994, at the World Cup held in the United States, the official ball was called Questra and used a layer of polystyrene foam on its outer layers. This not only made it more waterproof than the previous design but allowed the ball greater acceleration when kicked. The new game ball felt softer to the touch and had improved control and higher velocity during play.
The Tricolore soccer ball used at the 1998 World Cup in France featured a red-white-blue tri-color ― a complete departure from the traditional black and white pattern. It was the first official World Cup soccer ball sporting colors. The ball used an underglass print technology with a thin layer of syntactic foam.
This new foam material had better compression and more explosive rebound characteristics, making the ball softer and faster than its predecessor. The first World Cup ball in color was a revolutionary concept in ball surface design.
Adidas’s Fevernova soccer ball was the official ball of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan. The Fevernova was the first World Cup ball since 1978 to break with the traditional Tango design introduced in 1978. The ball had 11 layers, including a special foam layer with tiny gas-filled balloons imbedded in a syntactic foam.
The outer cover of the ball consisted of a combination of special synthetic polystyrenes (polyurethane) and natural rubber. Embedded within the layers were equally sized, highly elastic, exceptionally resistant gas-filled microcells. The inner lining consisted of a tightly woven network of knitted, synthetic Raschel fabric. The spongy layer had high compression property, and rained its shape well.
These layers gave the ball improved rebound characteristics, such as faster acceleration when the ball was kicked. The outer layer was made so that the ball can withstand exceptionally tough treatment. All of this combined to give the ball greater durability. According to Adidas, the surface of the ball converted applied energy evenly at every point. Source:

by Brian Lee
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