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April 19, 2010
By Kevin Ford
Special to ESPN The Magazine

The following article appears in ESPN's 2010 World Cup Guide, the digital version of which is free for all ESPN Insiders.

Courtesy adidasThe Jabulani, a ball whose thermally bonded panels make it a near-perfect sphere.

The Cup's ball has evolved significantly since the leather-swathed bladder of 1930. Early designs, which had sealed air valves under the stitching, often deflated. Subsequent craftsmen added exterior valves to enable reinflation. Then, for the 1970 Cup, Adidas produced its black-and-white Telstar, partly to help TV viewers track the ball. FIFA's manufacturer ever since, Adidas swapped the leather casing for synthetics in 1986, and followed up with stitching and panel improvements. But there will always be complaints, such as gripes that 2006's ball was wobbly and unpredictable. For 2010, Adidas addressed the concerns by thermally bonding panels to create an almost perfect sphere, and by adding a "Grip'n'Groove" goose-bump surface to improve accuracy and control. Adidas named the latest ball Jabulani, a Zulu exhortation to celebrate. How optimistic.