One of the most memorable pieces of a world cup is the match ball used. What better way to remember a World Cup than by getting the ball that is being kicked around throughout the competition. As the World Cup is only held every four years and there has only been an official Adidas match ball since the 1970 World Cup we are up to our 12th World Cup ball. So I think we are due for a bit of a history lesson!
It was very interesting to look back on the short history of the official match balls used in the world cup and to see the trends in both design and tech. The pace of change with both the aesthetics of the ball and the performance factors stood out to me. I broke down these leaps and bounds into separate sections. The first are the initial balls which are very traditional in design and in the technology used.
Find the adidas FIFA World Cup Historical Match Ball Collection at Soccer.com.
Telstar Mexico – Mexico, 1970
The first official World Cup ball for the first televised world cup. Featuring the classic 32 black and white panel design and made of leather this ball is truly a throwback as there isn’t really much to say about it, it is quite the simple, yet effective for its day type of ball.
Telstar Duralast – West Germany, 1974
Virtually the only differences between the 1970 version and this one is the branding on the ball. Adidas might have made some modifications under the skin, but given the time there was less emphasis on development and more about providing players with consistency.
Tango Duralast – Argentina, 1978
The Tango Duralast was constructed with a 20 panel leather upper and a new style visual design. The black pattern created 12 circles all around the ball. I find that I am quite the fan of the design.
This is where we see the changes in tech really taking form. With each installment adidas gets a little more adventurous with the technology they include in the ball. Also the designs still stays pretty similar and basic but they start to get a little bit of character.
Tango Espana – Spain, 1982
Adidas started throwing in additional tech to the 1982 tango match ball with rubber inlaid along the seams of the ball to reduce water uptake. This also happens to be the last match ball to be constructed of leather.
Azteca – Mexico, 1986
Along with being the first synthetic constructed match ball the Azteca was also a design trend of nation inspired designs. In this particular case the visuals centered around Aztec designs. Water uptake was also less of a problem than the Espana, which actually had faults with the rubber wearing off. I got to use a recreated ball and it actually performs very decently and reliably.
Etrusco Unico – Italy, 1990
Adidas have further added technology by adding a internal layer of foam which was a big step in the history of the match ball. Design wise we have a trio of lion heads decorating each of the 20 tri pointed panels of the ball, the style once again calling back to the ancient history of Italy as the style is that of the Etruscans.
After the adventure into the world of synthetics and foam we start to see multiple materials used to create a more advanced ball. Outwardly it may not look like there many changes going on but under that cover the tech is getting noticeably more advanced especially with the Fevernova. We are also seeing outward changes with the design as we gain color and eventually see adidas drop the tango graphics.
Questra – USA, 1994
The first match ball to truly push the boundaries of performance, the Questra underwent the most testing out of any of the match balls up to this date. The ball was inspired and designed after the Apollo 11 mission, it also happens that 1994 was the 25th anniversary of the interstellar incursion. Utilizing 5 different materials the ball was light and responsive making it an overall better ball to manipulate and control.
Tricolore – France, 1998
While still sporting the Tango design, the Tricolore is the first match ball to feature a set of brighter colors. The design itself feature the tri colors (tricolore) that are the french flag. The Tricolore also has further technological and performance enhancements featuring a new syntactic foam which had more explosive rebound properties as well as a softer touch.
Fevernova – Japan, 2002
The last of the traditional 32 panel styled world cup balls is the Fevernova. The design breaks away from the tango with a Japanese inspired ninja shuriken red and gold design. This is also the first ball to really excel in terms of performance and tech making way for the modern matchball, and much like the very recent Jabulani some players were not too happy with it. This may have something to do with the 3 millimeter, 11 layered, high tech and cushioned construction. Layers of foam with micro cells and tiny balloons embedded in the layers of foam to create ideal energy return and behavior. Of course to fit all this tech in adidas had to push the envelope and the ball just met the fifa match ball standards. I didn’t find the performance to be too far off when I used it but it bounced just a little bit weird.
After the change in tech that resulted in the Fevernova adidas have started to take on a “no holds barred” attitude to their match balls. We see a complete change in design and the tech improvements have become quite visible. We see texture added and along with the tech increase come the complaints from players. I think a large part of this surge forward in tech has to do with the increasing presence of Nike as a major competitor in the soccer market.
Teamgeist – Germany, 2006
The first ball that features a minimalist panel design and is the most water resistant of all the match balls to date. It is also arguably the most popular so far as well. The 14 panel design is constructed to have minimize the imperfections in the sphere and is more balanced, accurate and predictable. Thermal bonding as well as a more uniform surface means that it performs ideally in all conditions. However much like the Fevernova the changes and tech had some pros complaining. While the design may not scream “Germany” the company does. Teamgeist is German for “team spirit”. I’ve gotten to use the ball for quite a few matches and it is what I consider to be a more ideal match ball. However if there was just a little bit of extra texture in the outer shell I would be very happy.
Jabulani – South Africa, 2010
The most infamous world cup ball of all. Here we have a 8 thermally bonded panels and gripngroove texture tech and aero grooves and is made to increase predictability, by making the ball aerodynamically stable. However feedback from world cup players as well as Bryan in his jabulani review state that the ball is unpredictable in its flight. Bryan nick named it “Dancer” as It practically dances through the air. The 11 colors represent the 11 official languages and 11 communities of south africa. Jabulani means “to celebrate” in Zulu.
Brazuca – Brazil, 2014
Here is a quick tech run down of the current World Cup ball coming from adidas.
- The Brazuca ball has six polyurethane panels that are bonded to keep the ball the same weight and roundness in even the thickest of rain.
- The never-before-seen panel shape revolutionizes the game by producing faster flight speed and maintaining true roundness.
- The bladder of the Brazuca ball is made of latex and provides the desired rebound.
- The ball is textured and feels more like the adidas’ Finale 13, the official UEFA Champions League ball, than the adidas Jabulani used in South Africa four years ago.
- The adidas Brazuca ball, in a White/Night Blue/Multicolor colorway befitting Brazil, is the most colorful ever for a FIFA World Cup™
The design is made to reflect the spirit of Brazil with a plethora of colors and is so far much improved according to Bryan’s Review and even my experience with the ball thus far. I’m sure there will be complaints coming from players this world cup but time will tell.
There you have the entire history, from the Adidas perspective. If you want to get your hands on all the balls you can via the super exclusive adidas Official FIFA World Cup Historical Match Ball Collection 2014.
Anyone brave enough to buy the full set?