As if to confirm the fear, Joe Cole predicted that keepers would be "petrified" of what this ball could get up to. I had to get hold of one to test it myself, just to make sure these players were not exaggerating. So, thanks to the England camp, I took a couple across to one of the pitches at their plush training complex at Royal Bafokeng. And it did not take long to understand all the fuss. No matter how I hit it, the white and gold Jabulani kept doing the oddest of things, both in the air and on the ground.
Football powers mobile phone. Alan Smith's England XI.
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World Cup match balls through time. World Cup webchat with Alan Smith. England v USA match preview. I tried a curler, for example, with the inside of my right foot, and instead of the ball bending gradually to the left as you would expect, it somehow defied the laws of physics by momentarily veering to the right halfway to goal.
Was I seeing things here? Just to make sure, I tried it again and, amazingly, the ball reacted in the same way. Yet the opposite happened when I struck it with my instep on the half-volley. It was heading narrowly wide when, a few yards from the target, it swerved violently to the left to find the top corner. Blimey, this is good, I thought — a tracking device implanted in the ball that finds the net however you hit it. I would have scored 50 a season with that kind of help. But would it work with volleys?
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Well, yes and no. Launching the ball out of my hands, the ball tended to dip up and down rather than move from side to side. As for a powerful thump off the deck with my laces, the ball flew forward in a fairly straight line before oscillating wildly in flight like an excited fly.
Up until now, all these deviations added up to bad news for keepers and promising news for players trying their luck. But then something happened that widened the implications. Standing by the goal, my photographer retrieved a ball and side-footed it back along the floor. And even though it was not travelling with any real pace it still managed to swerve on its short journey. That means every single player in this World Cup is going to have to concentrate hard when receiving a pass, even if it is a simple, yard job.
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As for a raking yard effort, some people are going to end up looking stupid because they can not control the approaching missile. It might even be the same with judging the bounce, because the England lads have witnessed some extraordinary reactions when this ball rears up in front of them in training. Because at the event, the 'Jabulani' ball was so incredibly aerodynamic that it seemed to defy the laws of physics. If the world's best players can't seem to control a pass or shot, blame the Brazuca.
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He's arguably the best player in the world right now, but he's yet to dominate a World Cup. Four years ago, we saw more of him spruiking motor oil and mispronouncing the word 'places' than scoring goals. If he is to find the net in Brazil, make sure to take note of how long it takes him to get his shirt off. It's like Superman in a phone box.
It's going to happen. It's probably going to happen a lot. And, believe it or not, an Australian player or two will participate as well.
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Winning fouls is part of the game - moreso in some cultures than others - but given the news that Luis Suarez will likely be fit for Uruguay, be prepared to see some acting. For the neutral, an extra 30 minutes is like that perfect slice of caramel cheesecake after a perfectly cooked steak. For anyone with a vested interest in the game, it's effectively torture. If penalties arise, grown men will cry. It's awesome to watch if it's not you.
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Who knows what you will throw up next? In the last four World Cups, the French have either made the final or failed to get out of their group. They are prone to magnificent self-implosions, as proved, but also to some brilliant football. A tipster's worst nightmare, but fun to watch regardless.
They say there's one at every tournament: This year, you could argue there are three. Group B contains finalists Spain and the Netherlands, rising Chile and ahem the mighty Socceroos. All three are frightening prospects. This one will come in handy for Socceroos fans. Ange Postecoglou likes his defenders to play it out from the back, and sometimes said defenders overestimate their own passing ability. I can guarantee at some stage in the World Cup, you will be begging the Aussie defence to put the darn thing into row Z, where Robin van Persie can't reach it.
Already we have seen some of the world's best ruled out of the tournament with injury, including the likes of Radamel Falcao, Franck Ribery and our own Robbie Kruse. There's a plethora of players still fighting to overcome their ailments before kick-off too, meaning fans and coaches all over the world are crossing their fingers to breaking point at this very moment. Loosely translated to 'The Beautiful Game', it's meant to represent an honourable and fair way of playing, devoid of simulation, nasty fouls or deliberate cheating.
One or two games at the World Cup may fall under this bracket, if we are lucky.
This can be taken in two ways. Firstly, it is the act of one time starting play from the centre circle either at the beginning of the match, after half-time or after a goal. Alternately, it is what happens when a couple of testosterone-laden blokes take issue with each other in the heat of battle.
In the case of the latter, you're unlucky to see much more than a push, a shove, and dramatic tumbling to the ground. We probably can't devote 'C' to Ronny and ignore Barca's Argentinean wonder. He's had an injury-interrupted season and, like Ronaldo, is yet to stand up at a World Cup. If he truly is the new Maradona, he'll win this tournament off his own hand Rio's iconic stadium has undergone some substantial reconstruction over the past few years, and it is now once again one of the world's premier footballing venues.
It will host the final of this World Cup, just as it did in when Brazil manufactured the mother of all chokes to lose to Uruguay. Fair to say they haven't quite got over that one yet. If he wasn't one of the world's richest year-olds, incredibly talented and with the entire world at his feet, you'd almost feel sorry for Brazil's little maestro. The pressure on Neymar is ridiculous, and unless he is lifting the trophy on July 14 AEDT the home fans will probably feel let down.
He's a hell of a player, though, so he might just be up for the challenge. If you are new to the game, it might take some time to get your head around this one. If a player is further advanced than the last defender on the opposing team when his team-mate plays the ball, then he is offside, but not if the ball is played through by an opposition player, and not if it's in his own half, and not until he is involved in the play and Just consult the video below.
This is basically another way of saying "Team A recognizes that Team B is considerably better than them, so Team A is going to commit the entire team to defending for 90 minutes". It's a legitimate tactic, but Team B generally gets angry at it. Apparently the Socceroos aren't going to do this in Brazil. I wish they'd reconsider. It may be easy to forget, but simply qualifying for the World Cup finals is a commendable achievement. More than countries tried to earn a spot in Brazil, but only 32 could. When you look at some of the countries and players that didn't make it, Australia's achievement seems even greater.
Try and remember that as Spain slots its fifth goal past us. Very rarely do fans leave a football match and say "you know what I really liked about that game? It's a thankless task, but fortunately we have somebody to do it and while they will make mistakes, they probably won't decide the World Cup. Should the player listen to this fan, the shot is generally awful, and the entire possession is wasted. At this point, the fan will say "at least he had a go". Make no mistake, this is the main event of the World Cup. With effectively nothing to play for, both teams go hell for leather and it usually ends up one of the tournament's most exciting games.
Germany have won the last two playoffs, but both games have included utter screamers from the likes of Bastien Schweinsteiger and Diego Forlan.