Alexi Lalas is an idiot. I don’t understand why he is considered an expert on anything. The only thing he’s famous for is his long red hair and beard – but the locks are gone and he shave the beard years ago. In a front page Washington Post article (!!!) about complaints about the World Cup ball and the omnipresent Vuvazelas, Lalas blasts players who criticize the ball as whiners looking “for reasons other than the fact that you made a mistake.” That’s just plain lazy. Its true that criticism of the new ball is now a ritual of World Cups, but Lalas – and the entire Liz Clarke article in the Post for that matter – completely miss the main factor at play here: half the matches so far have been played at nearly a mile elevation and the other half at sea level. What was thought to be a ball harder on the goalies has actually wreaked havoc on the attacking players control because of the combination of a light ball and thin air. The high-profile goalkeeping errors have been unrelated to the ball and it is proving far tougher on strikers as they blow shot after shot well into the stands.
Criticism of the new ball during a World Cup comes around every four years. In a bid to bump up the goals and excitement, FIFA have official ball manufacturer Adidas introduce a new ball before the tournament with characteristics designed to get more shots in the net.In 2002 it was the lighter “Fevernova” ball, in 2006 it was another lighter version, the “Teamgeist,” and this time round its the even lighter “Jabulani”. German goalie Oliver Khan said of the 2006 ball that it “is built in favor of the strikers” – and he seemed to be right as 8 goals were scored in just two matches on the first day of the tournament alone, with several coming from distance. Nothing like that, however, is happening in this tournament with only 20 goals scored in the first 12 games. Not only have there been fewer goals, but the majority have been scored by either defenders or midfielders and the only the U.S. and Slovenian goals have come from outside the box, and we know what caused those…
Lalas, however, is having none of it. “It’s all whining. It happens at every World Cup with regard to the ball. It happens every World Cup with regard to the surface. When you’re at a World Cup, and a billion people are watching you — whether it’s a case of losing or not playing well — it’s human nature. You try to look for reasons other than the fact that you made a mistake.” The article goes on to claim that since Germany put four past Australia – and that result flattered the Aussies – “the verdict on the ball was further muddled.” Really? A small amount of analysis would show that the Germany result is evidence that its the altitude, not just the ball, that is making it harder on the players.
Germany played at Durbin, which is at sea level. Three other games have taken place at sea level, two in Cape Town and one at Port Elizabeth. In those four games, which included the dire (and so far only) 0-0 match between France and Uruguay, eight goals have been scored for an average of two per game. In the eight games played at or near one mile elevation, only 12 goals have been scored for a 1.5 average. Half a goal a game isn’t a huge discrepancy, but it gets more interesting when you examine which teams were involved. Germany is so far the only high powered team to play at sea level, with defense first teams like Italy, Greece, Paraguay, and Uruguay featuring. While at altitude, the high-scoring Dutch and Argentinians, as well as highly skilled English, Mexican, and Cameroon sides have all played. The Dutch got two goals, one kindly played into their net by their opponents, and the Argies only managed one.
Twelve games is not a large enough sample to rely just on the stats. But you can’t ignore the incredibly high number of overhit shots and crosses. Has there been a single free kick even on goal so far in this tournament? The US was victimized by Czech Tomas Rosicky in the last tournament with a thundering blast from 30 yards in its first game during the last tournament. Have there been any such goals so far? How many times has one goalkeeper booted the ball directly to the other? The ball is just carrying and floating much farther than it has in the past. Who are you going to believe – Alexi Lalas or your own lying eyes?
Filed under: World Cup 2010 |