World Cup ’keepers fight ball war

Ronaldinho’s magical feet, Beckham’s free-kicks or Henry’s dazzling runs?

Ask any goalkeeper and they are minor irritations compared to those being caused by the Teamgeist ball, whose revolutionary design has some of the world’s best keepers bamboozled.

“You will see a lot of goals scored from 30m-35m at this World Cup,” warned France’s Fabien Barthez.

“And not just by those players who normally kick the ball the hardest. These balls are a catastrophe.

Germany’s Torsten Frings was the first to show the ball’s potential when he hit a screamer from around the 40m mark which veered away from its original trajectory and dipped right past a bemused Jose Porras in the Costa Rica goal last Friday.The ball, designed by Adidas, has 14 panels instead of the 26 or 32 that traditionally create the hexagonal pattern and Ken Bray, a sports scientist at the University of Bath in England, believes that makes the ball behave more like a baseball.

“With a very low spin rate, which occasionally happens in football, the panel pattern can have a big influence on the trajectory of the ball and make it more unpredictable for a goalkeeper,” Bray said.

“Watch the slow motion replays on television to spot the rare occasions where the ball produces little or no rotation and where goalkeepers will frantically attempt to keep up with the balls chaotic flight path.”

USA keeper Kasey Keller feels slighted by the establishment.

“Something is obviously going on with the ball. The rule changes in the last 20 years haven’t been very goalkeeper-friendly. It might as well extend to the equipment as well. Fifa wants to see more goals,” Keller said.

“It’s a very light ball. The difference is only a fraction of a second but it’s a big difference. This ball has a wobble. It’s not an easy ball to catch. You are going to see times when a goalkeeper will overdive because it will come back across.”

He has now had first-hand knowledge of the problem with Tomas Rosicky hitting a curler past him in his team’s 3-1 defeat against the Czech Republic on Monday.

England’s Paul Robinson says the ball is “goalkeeper-unfriendly”.

“It’s two pieces glued together. It moves a lot. It’s light like a volleyball, and when it’s wet it’s even worse,” he said.

Adidas, who supply the ball to the English, German and French leagues, have defended their product.

“It’s also been used in the Champions League and no-one criticised it then,” company spokesperson Emmanuelle Gaye said.

“Fifa asked for a ball which would favour a good game as well as goals. The ball is rounder and smoother. It conforms to all regulations. If there had been a problem for a tournament as important as the World Cup, Fifa would have immediately come back to us. We are not worried. On the contrary, it’s a World Cup with a lot of goals.”

Not surprisingly, the strikers here are licking their lips in anticipation.

“With long shots, it floats and moves a lot which makes it difficult to read,” said Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho.

“It’s perfect for attackers.” ‘ IOL.

June 2006
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