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Soccer Mania

Mario initially figured 'I thought the Puma guy was mad': Mario Balotelli, who wears the Puma evoPower Tricks boots.
Mario initially figured 'I thought the Puma guy was mad': Mario Balotelli, who wears the Puma evoPower Tricks boots.
Warren Little/Getty Images

How do you say it—it’s all in the ball! With soccer, or “futbol” as it’s called in every other major country but the U.S., the sport has become duly recognized as one of the major sports after viewing the 2014 World Cup.

World Cup soccer balls used to be not much different from regular soccer balls—32 leather panels stitched together by hand. But in 2006, World Cup tournaments had Adidas unveil the Teamgeist, with just 14 panels glued together rather than stitched. Adidas introduced the eight-panel Jabulani ball in 2010, and for the 2014 games in Brazil—the six-panel Brazuca.

This year’s ball, the Brazuca, was covered with little nubs. This was an attempt to reduce the “knuckling” effect, causing the ball to move unpredictably similar to a in baseball “knuckleball.” Now in the game, one sees a slight curve inward every time its kicked with the inside of the foot.

But the new Brazuca seems far more reliable, showing very little behavioral difference no matter how it's rotated. This is likely due to the rough surface Adidas added to cut down on the drag.

Researchers found per Scientific Reports, a ball's construction really does affect how it flies through the air.

Still, there's a difference between a wind tunnel and an open field, from researcher Simon Choppin at Sheffield Hallam University. "The wind tunnel re-creates very particular spin conditions, but with a pass or shot, the spin might be completely different.”

The most typical player grievance is “astroturf” being comparable to “concrete." Pro players experience more fatigue, and soreness related injuries, according to a study FIFA did on player perceptions. A typical symptom is a phenomenon called “turf toe,” occurring when grip on the field is too hard, and feet slide forward in cleats.

“During the World Cup, we saw players go sliding and landing in all kinds of directions,” Carrie Serwetnyk told the CBC. If one recalls, many "jubilated" from goal scoring by running towards the fans by sliding on their knees. With astroturf, there literally would not be much skin left.

But Brazilian World Cup play brought some surprising results. The most surprising, was goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had 15 saves during the Belgium quarterfinal game, only losing 2-1 in extra time. He was named the most outstanding keeper in the entire tournament.

One thing possibly damaged the sport when players wore different color cleats—some with different colors on each foot. The cleats did not improve any players’ abilities, but they sure made a statement.

And a rule change for goalies from the recent past.

Goalkeepers cannot be in possession the ball for more than six seconds. Infraction results in opponents given an indirect free kick. In the past, goalkeepers could not take more than four steps with the ball, replaced with the six-second rule.

Many ways exist for keepers to retain possession, but he’s only protected when he holds the ball with his hands, it’s between his body and the ground, or when he is bouncing or throwing the ball in the air.

The initial tournament favorite, Brazil, unexpectedly lost both of its matches in the final round. The first match against Germany was 5-0 before the first half even ended. It was surprising nobody was killed after a performance never before witnessed in a final game of the World Cup. Thousands of Brazilian fans were physically crying before the game even ended 6-1.

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Kevin Roeten can be reached at roetenks@charter.net.