Photo courtesy: FIFA

Photo courtesy: FIFA

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, that epic global sporting event has graced our lives once more — the FIFA World Cup 2014. While we’ve all been busy rallying and cheering on our favorite teams (maybe?), there’s another hero that has quietly entered the stadium — the Brazuca soccer ball. There’s a real science that goes into designing a soccer ball fit for the world stage, and it turns out Brazuca is a real work of art. Who knew?

Fierce outcry from players of the 2010 World Cup had Adidas, the official World Cup ball supplier since 1970, rethink its soccer ball design. The official 2010 ball, dubbed Jabulani, veered off or dipped suddenly midflight, making its unpredictable flight tendencies a nightmare for world-class goalkeepers. Well, is it true that a ball’s design could impact its “ flight performance”? To answer this question, Sungchan Hong and Takeshi Asai, physicists from Japan’s University of Tsukuba, tested the aerodynamics of five balls, each with a unique set of characteristics, such as number of panels and texture:

  • Adidas’ TeamGeist 2 (used in the 2008 Euro Cup)
  • Adidas’ Jabulani (used in the 2010 World Cup)
  • Adidas’ Cafusa (used in the 2013 Confereations Cup)
  • Adidas’ Brazuca (in use in the 2014 World Cup)
  • Conventional Molten Vantaggio ball
Infographic courtesy: Kyle Kim/LA Times

Infographic courtesy: Kyle Kim/LA Times

The scientists utilized several wind tunnel tests and a “kick robot” to measure and compare the flight characteristics of each ball. And it seems the complaints of those 2010 World Cup footballers might hold some truth: The physicists found the Jabulani ball performed the worst, while the Brazuca ball performed the best. So what exactly is it about the Brazuca ball that makes it so special?

  • Deeper seams, which reduces “drag” and stabilizes its flight predictability.
  • Six panels bonded with glue, which evens the weight and shape of the ball.
  • Tiny “nubs,” which minimize the “knuckling” effect that causes erratic flight. (It was the lack of this type of design in the smooth Jabulani ball that caused its unpredictable flight.)
Infographic courtesy: Kyle Kim/LA Times

Infographic courtesy: Kyle Kim/LA Times

Suddenly, we have a much, much deeper appreciation of soccer ball engineering! Check out these other interesting links on the design and manufacturing of Brazuca:

  • Karen Kaplan at LA Times and Brian Palmer of the Washington Post each produced wonderful long-form news pieces on the physics behind building the perfect soccer ball.
  • NASA conducted its own series of tests and found that, yes, the Brazuca soccer ball reigns supreme in the test of aerodynamics.
  • Check out how Adidas took extra measures to make sure Brazuca would meet the needs and expectations of footballers.
  • And this is random but fun: Brazuca has its own Twitter. And now you know!

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