At the World Cup level, these tiny changes in a ball’s aerodynamics can legitimately impact a team’s performance, so the intense scrutiny of the World Cup ball is perhaps to be expected. “You could argue that it’s the most important piece of equipment in the most popular sport in the world,” says John Eric Goff, Professor of Physics at University of Lynchburg.
As always with Nike balls, the Merlin has an excellent feel, particularly when passing. The ball is also great for shooting due to Nike’s 4-panel construction, 360-degree sweet spot technology and the soft polyurethane outer material. It won’t deviate too much in the air due to the thermally-bonded pentagonal panel layout, so it’s perfect for training as well as games.
This soccer ball offers the traditional look and design of the pentagon panels in alternating black and white, allowing players to learn foot placement for a good bend. There is enough weight to the ball to allow for accurate crossing and passing drills, while enough rebound exists for dribbling and shooting drills. If you take your game seriously and you want to improve at home, this is one of the best and most affordable options that you’ll want to consider. Multiple sizes are available with this traditional design.
“I kind of feel sympathy for the players and especially the goalkeepers that have to get used to a new ball,” Goff says. So far the Telstar 18 has received criticism from a few goalkeepers that played with it starting in November, unhappy with how it moves in the air and the way the surface feels. Goalkeepers, unlike every other player on the pitch, have to predict where the ball will go in order to block it, while also not having the freedom to run around the field to adjust as the ball flies. That means goalies often have the most complaints about a new design. “Every time there’s a World Cup and a new ball the goalkeepers complain, because they’ve been given a new ball,” says Goff.
Using a wind tunnel, Goff has researched the flight properties of the Telstar 18, drawing its drag curve to discover where the ball might dip and swerve in the air, similar to the knuckleball free kicks favored by Cristiano Ronaldo “Even if aerodynamically the Telstar 18 isn’t that different from the Brazuca, it’s still going to wobble a little bit differently because the panel shapes are different,” Goff says.
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The outer casing of a soccer ball is composed of panels made from synthetic materials, such as PVC, PU, or a combination, sewn or glued together. Soccer ball casings are rarely leather anymore, since leather tends to absorb moisture making the ball heavier and not perform as well. The number of panels or sections of the outer casing varies according to design. Most professional soccer balls are the 32-panel design. More panels mean a rounder and stabler ball, and a more accurate flight.
When any object goes through the air, a thin cushion of air wraps around it that stays relatively still. This boundary layer is why you get dust trapped on your ceiling fan. At slower speeds, the air around a soccer ball moves smoothly over the surface and separates off the sides of the ball at its widest points. Imagine a ball moving from right to left across a clock, Goff explains, so traveling from the 3 to the 9. With laminar flow, the air flows over the surface and then flows off at the 12 and 6, which creates more drag in the air. Drag slows the ball down faster. At higher speeds, the air moves turbulently across the ball’s surface and peels off at the 2 and 4. The wind effectively wraps around the back. This turbulent flow has less drag, which means the ball keeps moving at high speed for longer.
Adidas started to make soccer balls in 1963 but made the first official FIFA World Cup ball in 1970. This is the first ball used in the World Cup to use the Buckminster type of design. Also, the first ball with 32 black and white panels. The TELSTAR was more visible on black and white televisions (1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ was the first to be broadcast live on television).
If you are all about playing soccer competitively or recreationally, you know how important it is that you have a great game ball for play. The thing is, buying a quality soccer ball can get really expensive, and it can be difficult to find a great soccer ball for a great price. So where do you start looking for finding a good soccer ball for a low price?
With the increased seam length, Goff says there was actually a risk that this ball would be too rough. “Very little changes in those textures can have noticeable aerodynamic effects,” he says. The fact that the Telstar 18 has almost the same drag curve as the Brazuca, with aerodynamic properties changing at about the same speeds, is impressive. “It has to be an engineering and technical challenge,” he says.