Behind the Brazuca: NBC’s extensive research hints less “knuckle-ball” in Brazil, NASA agrees

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After our extensive research it seems as though we can at least guarantee one thing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil… a better soccer ball to play with.

Cast your minds back to the 2010 World Cup and the debacle that was the Jabulani ball which swerved and dipped all over the place to resemble a beach ball, rather than the ball of choice for the worlds most prestigious soccer tournament.

But fear not, the Brazuca — which was unveiled by FIFA last week before the 2014 World Cup draw — won’t be a distant relative to the Jabualni. It will be, well, more normal. I’m sure goalkeepers of all 32 nations who’ve qualified are now breathing a huge sigh of relief.

For all the details on the new ball, we share with you the incredible in-depth study from Ben Popken for the Consumer News at NBC Business. Ben takes up the story as a Japanese University and NASA break down the science behind the ball, which will be kicked around to either crush or ignite the dreams of billions of soccer fans across the globe next summer.

Over to you, Ben.

The Jabulani curse is lifted.

Any knuckleballs at the 2014 World Cup should be mostly intentional, according to new independent wind tunnel results by Japanese university researchers.

The researcher’s data shows the new Adidas-designed Brazuca matchball for the 2014 World Cup is less likely to swerve at goal strike speeds, meaning there shouldn’t be a repeat of the maddeningly erratic balls at the 2010 World Cup. During those games, goalkeepers and outfield players alike accused the Jabulani matchball, with its glossier texture, asymmetrical panels, and shorter panel bonds, for voodoo shots and an early tournament goal drought.

At the University of Tsukuba in Japan, sports engineering researchers mounted soccerballs in a wind tunnel, blasted them with air, and measured what happened.

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After undergoing extensive testing in labs, the “knuckle-ball” will be much less than we experienced with the Jubulani. (NBC News)

Now, in aerodynamics, for every surface there’s an airspeed at which the air flowing over it switches from smooth to turbulent, what’s called the “critical Reynolds number,” and can lead to the sudden veering in flight known as “knuckle-ball.” But in the tests the Jabulani’s occurred at higher speeds than the mid-30’s mph seen on older balls.

In fact, it happened at 53 mph, right in the 50-60 mph range professional goal strikes and corners start at.

That could explain a few things that happened in South Africa.

This time around, those strikes should power through the knuckle-ball effect. In the wind tunnel tests, the Brazuca’s critical Reynolds number occurred at 38 mph.

Those results are more comparable to the Tango 12 ball, itself a player favorite and one of the balls on which Adidas based the design for the Brazuca.

“The asymmetry of ball panel location is one of the reasons to produce knuckling effect,” said Dr. Takeshi Asai of the University of Tsukuba’s Institute of Health and Sports Science. “Ordinarily, the asymmetry of ball panel increases, as the ball panel number decreases.”

That means the Brazuca’s six interlocking boomerang panels, fewer than the Jabulani’s eight, both of which are fewer than the classic 32 pentagon and hexagon panels, could normally pose a problem.

“However, the total distance of the panel bonds or seams of the Brazuca is longer than that of Jabulani,” said Aasai, 10.89 feet worth compared to the Jabulani’s 6.49. “Therefore, I think the strength of the knuckling effect may be slightly lower than that of Jabulani.”

A NASA researcher agrees.

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Click to enlarge: Here’s the findings which shows how the Brazuca will perform (NBC News)

Rabi Mehta, Branch Chief at NASA Ames Research Center and an aerodynamics expert who previously evaluated the Jabulani, has examined close up photos of the new ball. He thinks the Brazuca will gain stability over the Jabulani from its longer seams, identical interlocking panels, and a surface that features a slightly raised texture similar to a basketball’s.

“My theory is that the effective roughness compared to the previous ball is increased, which means the speed at which it knuckles is lower,” said Mehta.

That’s good news for Adidas, which has spent years making sure the Brazuca isn’t Jabulani part 2. They kicked the ball over and over with a robot leg and measured its flight, interviewed hundreds of professional players, a third of which were non-Adidas sponsored, and even snuck the Brazuca in as the matchball for the U20 World Cup.

“While we can’t comment on independent research, we can say that Brazuca is our most tested ball ever,” said Adidas spokeswoman Lauren Lamkin. “We conducted two-and-a-half years of testing in 10 countries across three continents involving more than 600 players and 26 teams to ensure that Brazuca exceeds all performance standards.”

However, she said, “It is correct that the seam geometry aids in flight stabilization.”

Hopefully, all this science leads to surer shots and more exciting gameplay in Brazil come this June. If not, at least it will be harder to blame the ball for it.

Everton 3-1 Swansea: Dominant second half has Toffees up to ninth

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Don’t look now, but Sam Allardyce‘s side are up to ninth place in the Premier League.

Everton managed a 3-1 comeback victory on Monday night against Swansea City, behind finishes by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Since taking over managerial duties at Goodison Park at the end of November, Allardyce and his side are unbeaten in five matches (4W, 1D).

Rooney continued his long-time status as one of the PL’s top goalscorers when he notched his 10th finish of the year in all competitions. The ex-Manchester United forward scored from the penalty spot with over 15 minutes remaining in the second stanza, after previously having a spot-kick attempt saved.

The former Swansea midfielder, Sigurdsson, gave the hosts the lead in the 63rd minute, after brilliantly cutting in on his preferred right foot and curling a shot into the far corner.

The Toffees had pulled level just moments before halftime, when Calvert-Lewin scored on a rebound from Wayne Rooney’s penalty kick.

Despite getting a hand to the initial save, and pushing it off the post, Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski couldn’t keep the follow up out by the young Englishman.

Leroy Fer tapped home for Swansea nine minutes before halftime after the Everton backline left the attacker wide open at the far post for his first goal of the season.

The Swans were forced to make a substitution after just four minutes when striker Wilfried Bony pulled up lame on the touchline. Leading goalscorer Tammy Abraham — currently on loan from Chelsea — came on to replace the veteran Ivorian.

The two sides will be back in action on Saturday when the Toffees host Chelsea, while Swansea takes on fellow bottom-half side Crystal Palace.

LA Galaxy has acquired rights to Quakes goalkeeper Bingham

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David Bingham is officially on the move from one Western Conference side to another, but his new club still has to sign the coveted MLS goalkeeper.

[ MORE: PSV likely to acquire Man City, USMNT’s Palmer-Brown on loan ]

On Monday, the LA Galaxy announced that the team has acquired the rights to the former San Jose Earthquakes shot-stopper in exchange for $200,000 in allocation money ($100,000 in TAM and $100,000 in GAM).

Despite now holding Bingham’s rights ahead of the 2018 MLS season, the Galaxy must still come to terms with the player in order for him to suit in the spring.

Last season, Bingham had a $190,000 base salary, per the MLS Players’ Union.

In the event Bingham doesn’t agree to terms with the Galaxy, another MLS club could potentially sign the experienced starter or he could move outside of MLS via transfer.

Bingham is entering his eighth season in MLS, after previously spending seven years with the Quakes.

The veteran keeper also has three caps with the USMNT, after earning his first start with the Yanks in 2016 against Canada.

At the half: Calvert-Lewin brings Toffees level with Swans

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Shaky early moments had the Swans on the back foot, but the relegation side has settled in nicely since.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s late finish in first-half stoppage time has Everton level against Swansea City, 1-1, at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

The Toffees looked to go into the break down a goal, but a penalty kick chance to Wayne Rooney sparked the home side’s equalizer.

Despite having his spot-kick attempt saved by Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski, Calvert-Lewin was in the right place to smash home the rebound.

Meanwhile, the Swans opened the scoring on 36 minutes when Leroy Fer tapped home.

The opportunity came off of a corner kick beyond the hour mark, to which Fer snuck in at the back post, and simply guided the ball past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Everton struggled to muster up chances of its own during the opening 45 minutes, despite the team’s extensive possession.

It was bad news early for the Swans, when Wilfried Bony suffered a leg injury inside the opening five minutes. That sparked the visitors to bring on loanee Tammy Abraham.

Juventus president Agnelli’s 1-year ban lifted on appeal

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ROME (AP) Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his one-year ban for selling tickets to ultras lifted on Monday, but the Serie A club’s fine was doubled and it will have to play a match with one of its main sections closed.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation in September for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping. He was also fined 20,000 euros ($24,000).

The FIGC’s appeals court said it has changed Agnelli’s sanction “into a fine of 100,000 euros ($118,000) and a ban until today’s date.”

Juventus, however, was fined 600,000 euros ($708,000) and will have its Curva Sud closed for the home match against Genoa on Jan. 22.

The federation’s prosecutor, Giuseppe Pecoraro, had requested a 2 1/2-year suspension for Agnelli and also appealed the original decision.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an ultra fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions, and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

The 42-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus denied any wrongdoing.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo and ticketing director Stefano Merulla have had their suspensions and fines canceled. D’Angelo was originally banned for 15 months, while Merulla had been handed a one-year suspension.

However, former marketing director Francesco Calvo had his appeal rejected and will be banned for one year and will have to pay a 20,000 euro ($24,000) fine.