Jabulani Ball

Where the Control At?

Jabulani Ball

Creative Commons License photo credit: Eustaquio Santimano

Right up there with the complaints about the vuvuzelas at the 2010 World Cup has been tsuris about the Adidas “Jabulani” ball, which was made specifically for this event. Every four years goalies complain about the new World Cup match balls, which have consistently been made to fly faster and to swerve more severely. Glen Levy quotes Cote D’Ivoire coach Sven-Goran Erikkson as saying FIFA should heed the concerns of keepers and field players, yet Levy ultimately concludes that the concern is nothing: the low scoring is due to playing at altitude and to overly-defensive strategies.

I’m not so sure. The ball seems to be affecting offensive play more significantly than defensive play. From the opening match the ball looked to me as though it was coming upon players more quickly than they expected, and that passes were outpacing recipients more than what I’m used to seeing in the football I watch. Goalies were concerned that shots taken from distance would dip and dive and move about unpredictably; but few shots from outside the box even seem to be finding the target.

I decided to crunch some numbers to see if there was any data to support what I thought I was seeing with my eyes. I’m no Nate Silver, though I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. I compared selected ball control stats from the first sixteen games of this year’s Cup with those from the sixteen matches in 2009’s Confederation’s Cup.

The results were pretty striking:

Total Passes Completed
2009: 73.7%
2010: 70.5%

Short Passes Completed
2009: 74.8%
2010: 73.6%

Medium Passes Completed
2009: 77.7%
2010: 77.4%

Long Passes Completed
2009: 61%
2010: 47.6%

Crosses Completed
2009: 34.3%
2010: 18.8%

Corners Completed
2009: 62.5%
2010: 40.6%

And, I also looked at shooting and scoring in 2009 and 2010.

Shots on Target
2009: 40.7%
2010: 34.2%

Shots Wide
2009: 42.2%
2010: 47.2%

2009: 43
2010: 27

In every one of these categories, control of the ball has been more fleeting in 2010 than 2009. Specifically, you can see that long passes, crosses, and corners have been the most severely impacted plays, sporting the largest differentials from last year to this.

All 32 of the games considered were played in South Africa, so the altitude question is neutralized. I supposed that strategic differences between a 32 team tournament and an 8 team tournament could have some impact on these numbers, as might the pressure of playing in the World Cup. I’m nowhere near equipped to integrate these allowances into my analysis. Now, everyone plays with the same ball, so I don’t think there are any questions about whether or not this situation is “fair.” But what’s above certainly combines with what I’ve witnessed with my own eyes to lead me to conclude that the Jabulani is having a negative impact on the ability of field players to control the ball.

5 thoughts on “Where the Control At?”

  1. No one would ever mistake me for a soccer, sorry FOOTBALL, fan, but this seems odd that they keep changing the ball. I mean its the worlds most played sport and people adore it all over the world. They love it just the way it is. Its like when the NBA tried to change the ball….PEOPLE freaked the hell out. The fans hated it, and more importantly, the player despised it. Since I’m in media, I know the NBA did it to drive sales of a new ball; pure and simple a money making proposition. They finally got their wits back (after all the players went on record on how much it sucked) and changed it back. I have no clue wtf FIFA is thinking? I mean I know Adidas/Puma or who ever making the ball for this years tourny is a company trying to make some chedda but, I feel they are doing more harm then good. Who wants that whack ass ball now? I mean everyone is hating on it. My thoughts… make an official ball like every other sport and keep it the same specs – and for gods sakes, man up and stop complaing about the tsuris…I’m looking right at you France.

  2. Seeing as how we’ve now had 8 goals in the first two matches of the second pass through the group stages, perhaps the game is opening up a bit. Maybe I’ll take another look at the passing stats in a few days to see if they change at all.

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