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


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.

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.

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.

Sergio Aguero expects to miss a month with hamstring injury

Sergio Aguero
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After scoring five goals against Newcastle United, Sergio Aguero may have to wait a bit of time to get back to scoring in the Premier League.

The Manchester City striker lasted just 25 minutes in Argentina’s World Cup qualifier on Thursday, as he was stretchered off with a hamstring injury. 

Aguero underwent testing in Argentina, and told the local media “I think I’m going to be out for a month.”

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Manchester City and Argentina teammate Nicolas Otamendi said Aguero was in tears in the dressing room, and some reports have penned the injury as a torn hamstring.

If Aguero were to be ruled out for a month, he would miss City’s Champions League clash vs. Sevilla, as well as the massive Manchester derby away at United on October 25.

To make matters worse for City supporters, David Silva was forced off after just ten minutes while playing for Spain today. Silva took a harsh challenge from behind, and hobbled off with what looked to be an ankle injury. If Silva’s injury ends up being more than just a knock, City could be without their two most important players in the attack.

Bayern Munich’s Mario Gotze out 10-12 weeks with groin injury

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 21:  Mario Goetze of FC Bayern Muenchen in action during the international friendly match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan of the Audi Football Summit 2015 at Shanghai Stadium on July 21, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Mario Gotze could be out of action until 2016 after picking up a groin injury on international duty.

The Bayern Munich midfielder suffered a tendon tear in his abductor muscle while stretching for a ball in Germany’s 1-0 loss to Ireland in EURO qualifiers on Thursday. He was taken off in the 35th minute.

Ruled out for 10-12 weeks, Gotze is likely to miss the rest of the first half of the season for Bayern. Their last league match of 2015 is on December 19, which is 11 weeks away. The Bundesliga then goes on winter break, with Bayern’s next match not until January 23.

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Gotze will miss both of Bayern’s upcoming Champions League matches against Arsenal, which is good news for the Gunners as they are in desperate need of a result.

However, Arjen Robben is back in training and will make his return to action within the coming weeks. After starting the Bundesliga seasons with eight wins out of eight, Robben’s return would add just another weapon to Pep Guardiola’s dominant attack.

Robben has not played since being injured in early September while playing for the Netherlands, and could feature for Bayern against Werder Bremen next week.