Jabulani: Hard to say, harder to control
While I applaud FIFA for considering banning those annoying vuvuzelas from World Cup stadiums, to me the far more pressing issue is getting rid of that confounded ball.
The bouncing beach ball they’re using in South Africa is ruining this World Cup.
I’m sure FIFA and their friends at adidas thought the Jabulani ball would make the World Cup exciting because a lighter ball that swerves through the air is a recipe for breath-taking goals.
But the truth is that it’s brought only breath-taking gaffes.
And it’s only a matter of time before the Jabulani’s unpredictable bounce and speed - exacerbated by the altitude at the majority of South African venues - will decide a game.
And even if doesn’t, at the very least it’s rendering this World Cup unwatchable for fans as the ball is forever being over-hit and scampering out of play. This World Cup may be lagging well behind in goals but at least we’re on a record pace for throw ins.
I’m sure the FIFA and adidas apologists will lay the blame elsewhere, but I saw too many clueless looks on the faces of seasoned world-class players this weekend to believe it was anything but the ball.
England’s Frank Lampard, who’s rich and famous precisely because he can make a ball do as he wishes, played a simple square ball to Glenn Johnson, one of the most athletic players in the game, against the United States and Johnson couldn’t stop it from going out.
It’s as ludicrous as David Stern telling the Lakers and Celtics to use a lighter, bouncier ball just as they started the NBA finals.
The Jabulani may be popular with the scientists who designed it, but it’s the villain of the piece with players who can‘t control the thing.
“People have to adapt themselves to it,” adidas spokesman Erik Van Leeuven was quoted as saying. He added that whatever mistakes have been made - specifically Robert Green‘s howler of an error to gift the U.S. the tying goal against England - had “nothing to do with the Jabulani.”
With all due respect to Mr. Van Leeuven, I’m more inclined to believe Lionel Messi, who has the best close control I’ve seen since Diego Maradona yet fluffed a half dozen goal-scoring chances against Nigeria because he couldn’t control the Jabulani.
"The ball is very complicated,” the Argentine said Sunday, “I hope we gradually get used to it because we have no choice.”
Maybe we could come up with a cash for guns styled program, only offering a free Jabulani to anyone who hands over their vuvuzelas at the stadium gates?
Like most observers, I’ve been most impressed so far with the Germans.
They are young, dynamic and, unlike German teams of the past, not robotic and overly obsessed with structure and organization.
This free-flowing approach is clearly a leftover of the Juergen Klinsmann era.
Klinsi’s a Californian at heart. For years he drove an old VW bug even though he was rich enough to buy a fleet of expensive cars.
He instilled in the German players the idea that soccer’s a game and that games should be fun.
That philosophy’s very much alive in his touchy-feely successor, Joachim Loew.
Of course it’s easy to have fun playing against an Australian team made up of players whose use-by dates had expired at the last World Cup.
And neither should it be seen as coincidental that Germany’s 4-0 victory occurred in Durban, which is at sea level, where the Jabulani ball behaves a little more.
England at big tournaments have become magnets to drama -- it certainly helps sell newspapers, which Fleet Street is very good at -- and so it was fitting that their World Cup got off to such a controversial start.
Despite all the hand-wringing after the draw with the U.S., I expect them to advance to the next stage, though if Wayne Rooney doesn’t find the back of the net, getting deeper into the tournament becomes problematic.
The French weren’t impressive at all against a stubborn Uruguay, while the other power to have played so far, Argentina, managed to look unimpressive while winning, which is, in its own way, impressive.
Argentina’s been on a roller coaster since the always unstable Maradona took over the team. The problem with Diego is that he’s a demi-god in his country and it’s almost treason to speak against him, so they let him run what was the world’s best team at the 2006 finals into the ground.
I mean, how many teams at this level train only in the afternoons because their coach wakes up at the crack of 2pm?
But Messi and company seem to be signalling that there’s a bit of unity and cohesion creeping into the squad. If that’s the case, I give them a chance.
But only until that aging backline has to face up to speed.
At that point, they’d better hope little Messi’s learned to control the Jabulani so he can score more goals than they concede.
Robert Lusetich is a senior writer for FOXSports.com.