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World Cup To Be Affected By Altitude

December 6, 2009

A new study done by Adidas shows that altitude at the World Cup will have an impact of up to 5 percent on a ball’s speed.

According to the study, that means that a free kick from 20 meters during the final at the Soccer City stadium in high-altitude Johannesburg will reach the goal line 5 percent faster than it would at the Moses Mabhida stadium in sea-level Durban.

That translates into a free kick traveling at an average of 78 mph at high altitude and 74 mph at sea level.

But playing at high altitudes has its advantages. A goal clearance that travels 60 yards in Durban would travel 63 yards in Johannesburg. And free kick specialists will not be able to put as much spin on the ball because the thin air offers less grip to change course.

Among the 10 host stadiums, Soccer City stands at 5,558 feet. The beach-side Moses Mabhida stadium is at only 26 feet.

Some other stadiums at high altitudes are Bloemfontein at 4,432, Pretoria at 4,364, Polokwane at 4,035 and Rustenburg at 3,783. In addition to Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth are also coastal.

It is easier for players to adapt coming down to sea level rather than moving up to altitude. Many teams have already established their training camps at altitude.

Adidas traditionally produces new balls for each World Cup and they invariably cause controversy since new technology almost always makes for a speedier ball that puts goalkeepers at a disadvantage. Keepers have complained that some balls also wobbled on long-distance drives, making them look foolish on some goals.

This time, Adidas is convinced the Jabulani, which means “to celebrate” in isiZulu, will sail true because small dots on the surface improve reliability in the air for “an exceptionally stable flight and perfect grip under all conditions.”

Compared to the black-and-white Teamgeist ball used in 2006, the new ball is a splash of color.

Adidas said the 11 colors not only represent the players in a starting lineup but also the 11 official languages and the 11 communities of the host country.

World Cup organizing chief executive Danny Jordaan said, “This ball will unify us in this country. It carries a lot of hope for the future of this country.”

Former Germany captain and coach Franz Beckenbauer remembers the days when the ball was made from leather and soaked up rain.

“You pulled a muscle because the ball was so heavy,” he said.

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