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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Players bawl over ball

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You could call it the Cinderella argument of the World Cup.

Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about The Ball.

In America eight years ago, it was Questra; in France 98 the Tricolore. Now, there is fever over the Fevernova.

World Cup balls
Mexico 70: Telstar
Spain 82: Tango
Italy 90: Etrusco
USA 94: Questra
France 98: Tricolore
The new Adidas ball dips, twists and turns like a white knuckle rollercoaster ride - and the goalkeepers, in particular, don't seem to have the stomach for the ride.

"If someone hits this ball at full speed, then unless it's straight at them the goalkeeper has basically no chance," said BBC Radio Five Live summariser Chris Waddle.

The former England winger tested five footballs for a BBC World feature and said the Fevernova was the best of the bunch.

His test range included a 1950s leather ball with laces and three further Adidas World Cup balls.

Waddle said he admired anyone who could play football with the heavy 1950s ball, but his least favourite was the Adidas Etrusco.

The ball was used at Italia 90 and Waddle admitted: "When I look at this ball I think of the penalty I put over the bar in the semi-final - which is probably still going!"

Technology, it seems, is making life easier for the modern footballer, but making the modern goalkeeper look more and more foolish.

The lightweight ball spins faster and swerves more dramatically, so the unpredictability of a shot is causing major headaches for goalkeepers.

David Beckham balances the new Adidas Fevernova ball
Beckham helped design the new ball
"This one is too light," complained Belgium goalkeeping coach Jacky Munaron, after seeing the new ball throw some shapes in a World Cup warm-up match.

"A lot of players are taken by surprise and are not happy about the quality."

But the strikers must love a ball which makes the goalkeepers look daft?

Apparently not.

Slovenia striker Zlatko Zahovic scored three times in as many games during Euro 2000 and will be hoping to repeat the trick during his nation's first World Cup appearance.

But he insisted: "It is the worst ball I've ever played with.

"It will be a problem since it's light as a balloon and bounces out of control."

The midfielders then? The Adidas press release which claimed Fevernova is 25% more precise and 10% faster than Tricolore must be good news for the middle men?

But that theory seems to go down like a lead balloon.

"The ball is bad," said Turkey midfielder Abdullah Ercan.

"You cannot send it where you want to."

Fevernova does have at least one ally among the players in Korea and Japan, though David Beckham's ringing (and official) endorsement may be due to the new lightweight ball being gentle to his delicate feet.

The Adidas Fevernova is the official World Cup ball
Rounder than round: The new ball
"With long passes, the flight path is much more accurate," Beckham claimed in a press release accompanying the announcement of the Fevernova.

Beckham, more than any other player, should be able to make the ball work for him having been involved in the development of the new ball.

But the biggest complaint from players ahead of any World Cup is the limited time they have to get used to the new ball.

Traditionally, the new ball is introduced at the World Cup draw - just six months ahead of the big kick-off.

To the naked eye, the Fevernova's triangular motif can create something of an optical illusion, suggesting the ball is not rolling truly.

In fact, the opposite is true, as the new World Cup ball is apparently rounder than any other round ball in the history of round things.

Whatever the case, it's an argument which is set to roll on and on.


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