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FIFA 2010: Curious Case of Perfect Ball, Shootouts and Heights

June 14, 2010

One month long sports bonanza has begun and it’s already in it’s third day. 32 countries are participating in 2010 version of FIFA World cup. Yesterday US played England and tied the game 1-1 after a blunder by English goalkeeper. But nothing to take away from US team- they did a good job of defending their goal, esp the goalkeeper,  and a draw against much more talented and better ranked team ( England rank-8, USA rank-14) has to be cherished. A win would have been much better though.

Let’s talk about some science related topics concerning FIFA 2010.

The Case of Perfect Ball: In this world cup a new football has been introduced named Jubulani which means “Celebrate” in Zulu.  The ball which has been described as the perfect ball has been designed by Sports Technology Research Group at Loughborough University. There are no stitches in this ball and all the patches are either glued or hot sealed. The number of patches are also reduced from 32 to 8. Sixteen air-grooves are also added to provide more stability to other-wise perfectly smooth ball. Team leader of the group Dr Andy Harland says ” “Powerful robots, which could out-kick even Wayne Rooney, were used to measure the variations that different types of balls created. With the stitched ball there were inconsistencies because elements were made by hand. We have created a ball that is almost perfectly round, and more accurate than ever before.” [Telegraph]. But not all the players are happy with the new seamless ball claiming that the ball turns the wrong-way in mid air, the claim which both Adidas, the manufacturer, and research team denies. The game is on and by the end of the event we will be able to know how perfect the ball was.  

Update: The controversy over the ball continues as Algerian keeper misjudged the movement of the ball, in a Group C game today, which could have been an easy save resulting in Algeria losing to Slovenia. The blame has been on the bouncy new ball. [Yahoo]

The Case of Perfect Shootout: What’s the best way of handling the pressure of penalty shootouts- to concentrate on goalkeeper or totally ignore him? The question is important as many games going to the wire will be decided by shootout, maybe even the finals. According to new study by Greg Wood at Exter University, he concludes that ignoring the goalie is the way to go in order to effectively kick the ball inside the goal.

“We focus on things in our environment that are threatening. In a penalty kick, that threat is a goalkeeper,” Wood said. `If he (the goalkeeper) can make himself more threatening, he can distract the kicker even more. By doing (certain) behaviors, he can make it so the kicker will kick (the ball) near the goalie.” …… “Don’t pay attention to the goalkeeper,” said Wood, whose study is due to be published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. “The control is with the kicker, and he must realize that, get confidence from it, and then align his eyes and let the eyes provide the brain with the necessary information for accurate shooting.”[ AP]

Soccer fans must be aware of spaghetti legs routine: Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar did some random movements of his legs during the penalty shootout in the finals of European cup in 1984 which distracted the goal-taker and finally Liverpool won. Some thought the wobbly leg dance was showing disrespect to opposing team or to the game of football itself, but infact Grobbelaar was using psychological technique of controlling the environment and distracted the kicker to perform below par. Watch the video of Grobbdelaar doing the spaghetti routine.

The Case of Heights: In 2007 FIFA ruled that no international games will be played in any stadium above the height of 2,500 m in the interest of player’s health. The ruling was a result of a game which a Brazilian team played in Andes at height of 4,000 m leading to many players being provided oxygen bottles to help them breathing. But later on the ruling was suspended pending further studies. The issue of altitudes is again up during FIFA 2010 as some of the games are going to be played at height of about 1 mile. Issue of player’s health and fairness has come up again. Main stadium in Johannesburg is at heights of 1.7 km while six others at elevated heights too. Performance is affected at higher altitudes but 5 day acclimatization can solve the problem.  But what if after you have adjusted to higher altitudes and have to come and play at sea level- will the performance be affected- researchers say yes. This can have impact during final stages of the games as both the semi-finals are going to be played at sea-level stadium. The matches will be between a team which has played their games at altitudes vs a team which has played at sea level. So maybe this can skew some of the results in semifinal games.

Anyways, I am going to enjoy the games, just like the kid in picture below, and may the best team win. By the way which team do you think has the best chance of winning the world cup this year– Brazil, Germany, Spain, Argentina , Italy or maybe some wildcard say USA, England or South Korea?

Pictures Courtesy: Boston.com/Bigpicture

Filed under: Science,Sports

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