One of the biggest controversies of the 2010 World Cup—aside from, obviously, those that had to do with vuvuzelas—involved the tournament's ball itself. While Adidas, which has made the World Cup match balls since 1970, advertised its latest creation as being aerodynamically superior to other soccer balls, many players ended up concluding the opposite. The Brazilian goalie Julio Cesar called the ball "terrible" (adding, in his frustration, that it looked like it had come from a grocery store). The striker Robinho complained that "for sure the guy who designed this ball never played football."
The Jabulani was, it turned out, too slick for its own good: Air, as it passes over a smooth sphere, breaks away from that object's surface, making the path of its flight susceptible to forces—wind, say. The Jabulani's smooth stitching gave it a tendency to break in the air unpredictably and, for players and fans alike, frustratingly.
Adidas, it seems, has learned from its mistake. Today brings the World Cup debut of a new ball, the Brazuca (named—by a fan poll that drew nearly a million votes—for the Portuguese word that means, depending on your preferred translation, either "distinctly Brazilian" or "done with flair"). Over the next five weeks the ball will be, as one commentator put it, "the most viewed piece of sporting equipment on the planet."
The Brazuca is made of only six panels—a departure from the eight-panel Jabulani (not to mention the 32-panel affair that debuted in the 1970 World Cup). But the seams that bind those panels are deep—three times deeper, in fact, than those of the Jabulani. The textured surface means that airflow will stay close to the kicked ball, PopSci notes—which in turn will create a narrower flight path, one that’s less susceptible to winds and other forces. So the Brazuca, Adidas says, features fewer panels, and a truer flight.