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May 30, 2010

Players not happy with World Cup ball

Associated Press
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Wayne Drehs blog: Players Talk About The New Ball
Oguchi Onyewu, Jozy Altidore, Stuart Holden, and Tim Howard express their opinions on the new World Cup ball.

JOHANNESBURG -- Several players are going all out against the new World Cup ball, with more than one comparing it to those bought at a supermarket.

And this time it's not only goalkeepers who are complaining. Strikers, defenders and midfielders are also lashing out at the Adidas ball just a few days before the monthlong tournament is to begin in South Africa.

The ball is called Jabulani, which means "to celebrate" in isiZulu, but not many are celebrating it so far. It's hard to find a player who is happy with it, and those who don't like it are not saving adjectives to describe their feelings.

"It's very weird," Brazil striker Luis Fabiano said Sunday. "All of a sudden it changes trajectory on you. It's like it doesn't want to be kicked. It's incredible, it's like someone is guiding it. You are going to kick it and it moves out of the way. I think it's supernatural, it's very bad. I hope to adapt to it as soon as possible, but it's going to be hard."

Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar on Saturday called the ball "terrible" and was the first to compare it to those plastic ones bought on a supermarket. Italy striker Giampaolo Pazzini said the same thing, calling it a "disaster."

"It moves so much and makes it difficult to control. You jump up to head a cross and suddenly the ball will move and you miss it," Pazzini said. "It is especially bad for the goalkeepers if it means they concede a goal because they can't judge the trajectory."

Adidas traditionally launches new balls for each World Cup and they usually cause controversy because of the changes prompted by the new technology being introduced. Most of the time the ball becomes speedier and goalkeepers are the ones most affected by it. But this time the livelier ball is causing problems to field players, too.

"There is no way to hide it," Brazil midfielder Julio Baptista said. "It's bad for the goalkeepers and it's bad for us. It's really bad. The players try to cross it and it goes to the opposite direction they intended it to go."

Aaron Lennon with the 2010 WC Jubalani Ball
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesEngland's Aaron Lennon makes a move with the 'Jubalani' World Cup ball, which has drawn complaints from players.

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas also expressed his anger at the design of the ball after the European champion's 3-2 friendly win over Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

"It's sad that that such an important competition like the World Cup has such an important element like this ball of appalling condition," he said.

Adidas said the technology on the Jabulani is "radically new," and when it launched the ball in December is said that it would sail true because small dots on the surface would help improve reliability in the air. It said the ball would have "an exceptionally stable flight and perfect grip under all conditions."

FIFA and Adidas did not immediately return messages seeking comment Sunday.

Adidas has released some promotional materials in which some of its sponsored players praise the ball, including Kaka, Michael Ballack, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard. Ballack called the ball "fantastic."

Spain defender Alvaro Arbeloa, who also wears Adidas gear, had a simple answer when asked about the ball: "It's round, like always."

"It happens every time, the players always complain about the ball," said former Brazil great Tostao. "It used to be the goalkeepers only, but now we have the others complaining, too. At the greatest competition in the world you would think that the players would like the ball, but that's not the case."

Players were already expecting the ball to be affected by the high altitude in Johannesburg and some other host cities. A study by Adidas last year showed the altitude will have an impact of up to 5 percent on the ball's speed, meaning a 20-yard free kick will reach the goal line 5 percent faster than it would at sea level.

The ball is made up of 11 colors to represent the players in a starting lineup and the 11 official languages and the 11 communities of the host country.

"That's the ball they chose and we have to accept it," Baptista said. "But it's going to be complicated."

The World Cup begins June 11 with South Africa playing Mexico.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press