Ahead of every World Cup, there are always certain guarantees: England fans fear the team will eventually be eliminated via penalty kicks. The world will underestimate the German squad. And there will be a hullabaloo over the official match ball.
Sure enough, some of the world’s best players have laid into the Adidas “Jabulani” (it means “rejoice” in Zulu) after reports that the ball swerves around unpredictably. And unsurprisingly, the complaints have started with the goalkeepers. Spain’s Iker Casillas labeled it a “beach-ball” after his side’s friendly victory over Saudi Arabia and his Brazilian counterpart Julio Cesar has been similarly scathing, comparing it to a “supermarket” ball. Chilean Claudio Bravo went one further, profoundly remarking that, “It was made to prejudice goalkeepers,” while Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon just went with “horrible.” England’s Joe Hart (who will be lucky to see any action) said, “balls have been doing anything but staying in my gloves.”
And the strikers aren’t happy either. Brazilian Luís Fabiano called the ball “supernatural” and his teammate Júlio Baptista claimed the ball worked against strikers and goalkeepers. And not that TIME’s World Cup blog would ever claim (ahem) foul play, but it is interesting to note that Adidas sponsored players such as Kaka, Michael Ballack (who will be missing due to a knee injury) and Frank Lampard have all defended the ball’s playability.
As for the “Jabulani” itself, it consists of (and here come the stats) eight thermally-bonded, three-dimensional panels which are spherically-moulded from fromethylene-vinyl acetate. Its surface is textured with grooves to aid its aerodynamics, which probably explains why some aren’t comfortable with it yet. The truth remains that each time Adidas launches a new ball, they cause controversy because of the changes they introduce to it before every tournament. And when England get knocked out on penalties, you can trust this long-suffering fan when he says the reason is that the players can’t deliver when the pressure is really on, as opposed to the ball itself not deciding to, well, play ball.
For more on the controversy, see what my colleague Sean Gregory has to say.