The anticipation has now reached fever pitch. Just one more visit to the land of nod and then the 21st edition of the greatest competition on the planet gets underway. Despite the predictably garish and jingoistic opening ceremony that awaits us all in Moscow tomorrow afternoon, with just 24 hours to go until the first whistle is blown I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to see what the next month will bring.
Today I have the honour of delivering to you, my loyal readers, the very last installment of the 2018 World Cup Countdown. It's been a pretty wild 30 days of World Cup tales, trails and trivia from across the ages. For the very final solitary number in our countdown there's little else I can write about. This post will focus on an object. An object on the field of play in the game we all love. The one and only object that truly matters: the ball.
The Brazuca, Brazil 2014
Right now the World Cup kit fanboys are still gushing over the 2018 Nigeria home shirt, and I'm sure some of them are waxing lyrical about Argentina or Denmark's latest hipster fashion accessory. But old Joolsy here likes nothing more than taking a look back at the World Cups of yesteryear and examining the evolution of the absolutely essential piece of equipment for any game of football.
This design has become the 'classic' football used to portray the game across different media.
Ever since the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, German sportswear behemoth Adidas has exclusively produced the balls for each and every World Cup tournament. Up until the 70s a heady mixture of local manufacturers had produced the World Cup balls for each tournament, including household names such as Slazenger (England 1966) and some lesser-known father & son type outfits such as Allen (France 1938), Superball (Brazil 1950), Kost Sport (Switzerland 1954) and, lest we forget, Sydsvenska Läder och Remfabriken (Sweden 1958).
In the World Cups of the 70's and 80's, variations on the classic 1970 Adidas Telstar design - latterly known as the Tango - kept ball design fairly consistent through those decades. So consistent in fact that this design has become the 'classic' football used to portray the game across different media. The Telstar emoji is case in point → ⚽. In fact, this black and white design was devised so that the ball would be clearly visible on the TVs of that time.
For Mexico 1986 the ball was renamed the Azteca, then four-years later the Etrusco Unico, and then the Questra. The design and build of the ball fundamentally didn't change all that much during this period. Then cometh France 1998, and the World Cup ball got its first ever splash of colour – the red, white and blue of the Adidas Tricolore. For a large chunk of football gear aficionados, many of whom had their formative years in the 90s, the Tricolore remains a classic ball. A beautiful fusion of the retro designs of a byegone age and the colour-rich futuristic weirdness that was to dominate the World Cups of the 2000s.
The Jabulani, South Africa 2010
Ball design in the new millennium became more experimental. The Brazuca and the Jabulani (pictured above) both featured bold flashes of colour and unique panel stitching designs. Used for South Africa 2010, the Jabulani was in fact so experimental that it caused a major controversy during the tournament with players (especially goalkeepers) complaining that the trajectory of the ball was unpredictable and erratic.
The new century began with the bold designs of 2002's Fevernova and 2006's Teamgeist - both of which represented a radical departure from the 32-panel designs that came before. Revolutionary new colour-ways and designs with thermally-bonded panels were all the rage, together with claims that these balls were rounder and more spherical than ever.
The outlandish claims being made in various places about 2018's Telstar 18 continue this long tradition of Adidas reinventing the wheel. These claims include, with varying degrees of truth that ultimately remain to be seen:
- The design of the Telstar 18 will stop knuckle-ball free-kicks by reducing the dip and swerve players can put the ball (take note CR7).
- Modelled on the original Telstar from 1970, the Telstar 18 features 'jigsaw' panels that reduce air turbulence.
- An NFC chip to connect with fans is built into every Telstar 18 that lets fans unlock exclusive content on their smartphone.
- The Telstar 18 design is influenced by Russia's urban landscapes.
- At £129.99 for the official match version, the Telstar 18 represents good value for money.
The Tricolore, France 1998 (Credit: Shine 2010, Flickr)
And with that my friends, I bid you farewell. Hoping you all have a smashing World Cup and that whichever team you support plays a blinder! I may make a re-appearance sometime during Russia 2018 but for now i'm off take a well-earned lay down and perhaps to imbibe a shot or two of celebratory водка.