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.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.