The ball to be played in 2014 FIFA World Cup is a special one. For the first time in its history, a non-conventional ball will be used in the game. Adidas, the maker of the ball, branded it as “Brazuca”, informally meaning anything “Brazillian”. What is so special about it?
Before we talk further, a little technical note is necessary. In total, a conventional ball is made of 32 pieces (called “panels”). These panels are sewn together to give a round shape, inside which a latex bladder is inserted that is inflated to give the ball the bouncing property. Out of these 32 pieces, 20 pieces are of Hexagonal shape (ষড়ভূজ) and 12 pieces are of pentagonal shape (পঞ্চভূজ). These pieces can easily be counted by looking at the outer surface of a ball. There are other types of balls containing 14 pieces or sometimes 8 pieces in total (in that case, each piece of the new ball has to be larger than those of a 32-piece ball to give the same shape as its previous version).
Theoretically, the higher the number of pieces, the more playable (controllable by the player) the ball will be, but the speed will be lower because the ball will face more air resistance. This is a classic trade-off whether to increase the controllability of the ball or increase its flight speed. Controllability also includes whether the ball either behaves in a predictable way or shows the tendency to move away from the target as the kicking player actually intended. Players usually get used to the later variant by practicing with the new ball.
However, Adidas, the long-time supplier of World Cup balls, is making it with only 6 pieces of outer surface for 2014 FIFA World Cup. Theoretically, holding other things constant, it means that the ball is supposed to fly faster than previous world cup balls. How about players’ controllability? It is believed that Adidas must have done extensive research to ensure controllability, despite the fact that it is making the ball with less number of panels than earlier variants. Intrigued by its physical properties, a Japanese researcher already tested the ball in a wind-tunnel (a laboratory set-up) where he found that the ball performed excellent in terms of its aerodynamic properties (kicking direction was well maintained in its flight-path). This ball also has the ability to follow a higher curved path if properly kicked on an indirect angle.
Now, with a speedy ball and a good control including the ability to create a curved flight-path, it is up to the players how they will capitalize on this new ball. I hope the World Cup 2014 will be more enjoyable.