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.

Atlanta United fans pack 20,000 into new stadium for training session

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Atlanta United is currently in the midst of a three-match road trip in MLS play, but that didn’t stop the club from unveiling its new home venue to a massive crowd of supporters on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Over 20,000 fans of the Eastern Conference expansion side filed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch Gerardo Martino’s side train on Saturday as Atlanta prepares to finish out its road trip against D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union.

Atlanta will open up home play at their new stadium on September 10 when they host FC Dallas. The club will have the benefit of playing eight of its final 10 regular season matches in front of its Georgia fan base.

The first-year MLS side will share the stadium with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL.

Here are some sights from the training session

Follow Live — Fire host TFC in MLS headliner

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With most MLS sides having 10 matches or less remaining in the regular season, it’s crunch time for many clubs seeking out a playoff position.

Saturday features several massive fixtures in both conferences, including the Chicago Fire taking on East leaders Toronto FC — who are unbeaten in their last six matches.

[ MORE: Van Damme exits Galaxy, joins side in native Belgium ]

Meanwhile, Sporting KC hosts FC Dallas out West as the playoff battle heats up in the league’s other conference. As it stands, the top seven sides in the Western Conference are separated by just six points.

Here’s the full rundown of Saturday’s MLS matches.

Montreal Impact vs. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew — 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 8 p.m. ET
Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas — 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. D.C. United — 9 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — 10 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union — 10:30 p.m. ET

La Liga & Serie A: Video replay used in Juve win, Atleti draws

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A roundup of Saturday’s action from around Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: PL roundup — United rolls past Swansea, Arsenal falls to Stoke ]

Girona 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Everything that could go wrong did on Saturday for Atletico Madrid, but it was Girona’s gain as the promotion side began its La Liga journey with a draw. A first-half brace from Cristhian Stuani gave the hosts a 2-0 lead inside the opening 25 minutes, and from there, matters were made worse for Atleti when Antoine Griezmann was sent off in the 67th minute after picking up a second yellow card. Angel Correa pulled a goal back with 12 minutes remaining for Diego Simeone’s side, while Jose Gimenez tied the match in the 85th minute.

Celta Vigo 2-3 Real Sociedad

Future LA FC forward Carlos Vela played a key role for Real Sociedad in their comeback win over Celta Vigo. The Mexican international drew a penalty kick with two minutes to play in regulation, before Willian Jose buried the ensuing spot kick to give Sociedad the victory. Celta Vigo led at home twice on Saturday, but the visitors showed their resiliency, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes of play.

Sevilla 1-1 Espanyol

Clement Lenglet and Léo Baptistão scored on the afternoon in the draw, and despite Sevilla’s overwhelming possession the hosts couldn’t muster up enough to secure three points in the opener. The home side was reduced to 10 men with under 10 minutes remaining as well when second-half substitute Ever Banega was sent off.

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe — 12:15 p.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Real Betis — 2:15 p.m. ET
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Real Madrid — 4:15 p.m. ET


Juventus 3-0 Cagliari

Everything was status quo for Juventus as they kicked off another season in Serie A as the reigning Italian champions. The Bianconeri controlled the flow of play throughout the match, limiting Cagliari to just two chances on target. Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala struck in the first half to put Juve up 2-0 at the break, while Gonzalo Higuain tacked on a third finish in the second stanza.

Cagliari’s best chance came when Duje Cop was taken down in the box, prompting referee Fabio Maresca to utilize VAR for the first time in a Serie A match. After mulling the decision for a moment, Maresca pointed to the penalty spot, but Diego Farias’ attempt was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Hellas Verona 1-3 Napoli

Napoli boasted one of the top attacks in Europe last season, and the club didn’t waste any time in picking up where they left off. An own goal kicked things off for Napoli in the first half, before Arkadiusz Milik and Faouzi Ghoulam put the finishing touches on the match. Meanwhile, a late red card from Elseid Hysaj allowed Hellas to score their lone goal of the afternoon through Giampaolo Pazzini’s penalty finish.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Atalanta vs. Roma — 12 p.m. ET
Bologna vs. Torino — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crotone vs. AC Milan — 2:45 p.m. ET
Inter Milan vs. Fiorentina — 2:45 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. SPAL — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Benevento — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. Genoa — 2:45 p.m. ET
Udinese vs. Chievo Verona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Transfer rumor roundup: Mbappe to PSG? Torino rejects Belotti bid from Chelsea

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Although all the major European leagues have all kicked off, the transfer rumors continue to swirl as the window closes in on deadline day.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — Chelsea meets Spurs in early London derby ]

In another twist that could make Paris Saint-Germain clear favorites to win the UEFA Champions League, the French giants appear close to signing Monaco teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe.

While PSG remains under UEFA’s microscope for the club’s unwillingness to obey Financial Fair Play laws, the Parisians have launched a $211 million bid for Mbappe, according to Mundo Deportivo.


Chelsea continues to look for more options up front, but their latest attempt at poaching one of Italy’s brightest strikers has failed.

Torino has reportedly declined Chelsea’s $74 million bid for Andrea Belotti, with the Serie A side unwilling to part ways with the 23-year-old unless a team meets his $103 million release clause.

The Blues have already added Alvaro Morata this transfer window in the wake of the Diego Costa saga, while Michy Batshuayi is also in the Chelsea squad.


West Brom is playing hard to get with defender Jonny Evans, and Manchester City will have to fork up more money if they want the Northern Ireland veteran.

The Baggies are reportedly seeking over $41 million for Evans, as the Citizens continue to spend at a lightning pace during this transfer window.

[ MORE: Saturday PL roundup — Man United rolls, Arsenal falls at Stoke ]

Manager Pep Guardiola and Co. have already added the likes of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy at the back, while Bernardo Silva has been thrust into the team’s attack.