The Match Balls

World Cup special issue: Adidas has supplied official match balls for the world cup finals since 1970. Here we trace their design evolution from Telstar to Brazuca

Richard Buckminster Fuller is perhaps an unlikely hero for the average football fan but the game owes the great man a considerable debt: the modern football is based on Buckminster Fuller’s research into geodesic domes. Thus, the first World Cup balls produced by Adidas were made up of 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal panels. Black panels were added to allow players to pick up spin or swerve more easily. Originally made of hand-stitched leather, the 1986 tournament was the first to feature an entirely synthetic ball. Over the years, foam layers were introduced to aid waterproofing and touch while, from 2006 onwards, Adidas has experimented with the number and shape of panels used. This year’s ball, the Brazuca (a slang term meaning ‘Brazil’ or ‘Brazilian’), is made from 100% polyurethane and uses just six panels. It is the result of two and a half years of testing with 600 players.

1970 – Mexico

A Telstar training ball from the 1970 finals. Logos and company names were not allowed on match balls at this stage. A ‘durlast’ layer reduced water absorption.

1974 – West Germany

For the first tournament to allow branding, Adidas produced an improved Telstar, with black lettering instead of easily rubbed-off gold.

1978 – Argentina

The graphics of the Tango conjured the illusion of a ball made from 12 interlocking circles when, in fact, it again used a mix of hexagons and pentagons.

1982 – Spain

The Tango España was of the same basic design as the 1978 ball with the addition of improved waterproofing. This was the last genuine leather World Cup match ball.

1986 – Mexico

As well as being the first synthetic World Cup ball, the Azteca boasted graphics inspired by the host country’s architecture. As Maradona found, it handled well.

1990 Italy

The Etrusco Unico again featured graphics inspired by the hosts – this time the art of the Etruscans, no less. An interior foam layer improved waterproofing and performance.

1994 – USA

As a nod to the hosts, the Questra featured stars and stripes, but with a nice twist, courtesy of the design team of Peter Moore, German studio Flick and Design Bridge of the UK.

1998 – France

The first multicoloured World Cup ball, the Tricolore’s graphics are based on the neck of the French rooster abstracted into waves supposedly recalling TGV trains.

2002 – South Korea & Japan

If the Fevernova’s gaudy gold graphics weren’t enough to cause alarm, its performance soon had the world’s goalkeepers complaining that it was too light.

2006 – Germany

For the Teamgeist, Adidas abandoned the traditional 32 panels in favour of a new 14-panel construction. Thermal bonding replaced stitching.

2010 – South Africa

Eight panels were used to make the Jabulani – both triangular and tripod-shaped. It was supposedly the ‘roundest’ ball ever made by Adidas.

2014 – Brazil

The Brazuca was named via a public vote in Brazil. It is constructed from the fewest number of parts yet – just six panels – and features a new surface pattern.

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