“No Goal” Jabulani – is it all in the ball?

Although players will forever complain about new game balls, the Jabulani has been at the epicenter of this year's ultra-low scoring World Cup.

Without a doubt, the first round of World Cup soccer has been rather light in the goal-scoring department. According to the BBC, compared to other World Cup events at this stage of play, it has been 80 years since there have been so few goals. Although conditions have been a bit soggy during the South African winter, players and managers are raising a fuss over the new ball, the Jabulani.

Every World Cup, new game balls are designed, utilizing the latest advances in technology. The problem is, however, that this year’s ball might be over stabilized, causing the ball to keep it’s “lift.” However, according to the ball manufacturer, Adidas, the Jabulani is equipped with “air grooves” that “allow the ball to be handled more accurately than ever before.” Additionally, the ball underwent extensive testing in Loughborough University in England, the Adidas football laboratory in Scheinfeld, Germany, and in wind tunnels. Also involved in the testing were Adidas partners AC Milan, FC Bayern Munchen, the Orlando Pirates, and Ajax Cape Town, who all made suggestions for improvement during testing.

Pictured is a breakaway photo illustration of the paneling design of the Jabulani.

So why are players suddenly complaining now?

First, in case you haven’t been following the World Cup, it seems that every hard shot taken from 30 meters out seems to fly over the posts. As if to culminate this statement, an announcer for the Nigeria v. Greece match said, “Oh dear, it seems that you just can’t shoot this ball from far out or it will hang in the air every time,” referring to Uche’s sail-away shot that looked more like a rugby kick. Also, I’ve seen on at least two occasions where the announcer has claimed that an oddly flying shot was a result of a deflection off of another player, then retracted the statement after an instant replay.

Looking at scoring highlights, it certainly seems that a vast majority of the goals are scored close in: Argentina appears to be doing better with headed goals and deflected shots. USA scored a fluke off of a handling error from England’s goalkeeper. Switzerland upset super-favored Spain with a bungling, tumbling goal. Greece upset Nigeria with a goalie’s mishandled, low-angle shot (and ultimately most likely because of a red card, but that’s another story). It also appears that high crosses—passes from one side of the field to the other—seem to sail past their target on many instances, forcing the wings to sprint down their prey.

But can the ball really be to blame? After all, if the ball is out of control, wouldn’t that force the goalies to cope with harder shots to deflect? Adidas also claims that the Jabulani is made for “stability in all weather situations.” If this is true, then we shouldn’t put too much blame on the modestly wet and cool conditions.

Also mentioned by BBC blogger David Bond is the oft-repeated complaint that the European soccer season is too long. As if to accentuate this point, I should point out the successes of Asia’s teams—Japan and South Korea won their openers, and North Korea put up a much better fight than expected—showcasing the much different season that Asian teams face.

Also mentioned in a passing statement by Argentina’s coach Maradona was a passing missive against the hybrid turf in South Africa’s stadiums (which doesn’t really explain why the ball flies so far in the air).

But whatever the reasoning may be, there is no disputing that it’s difficult to pinpoint any other consistent factor that has been responsible for such a low number in goals from some of the world’s best long distance strikers.

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