The World Cup has evolved through the years, progressing through many changes from 1930-2022. Each tournament is different, from its host country, theme, poster, and soundtrack down to the tournament ball used.
Let’s look at the tournament balls used over the years and the evolution of their design.
T-Model, the Wembley is the most well-known pre-Adidas World Cup ball. It was used throughout the 1930 World Cup tournament.
However, for the final match between Argentina and Uruguay, the Argentina team wanted to use their ball, the regular 12-panel one. They agreed to compromise and used Argentina’s ball in the first half of the match while using the T-Model for the last half. Uruguay won with a score of 4-2.
The Federale 102 had 13 polygonal panels cut and fitted together by hand sewing. The laces, which were traditionally leather, were replaced by brown cotton.
This made the ball softer and allowed players to headbutt the ball easier.
The Allen ball was largely similar to its predecessor, Federale 102, with 13 hand-sewn panels and cotton laces. The only difference was that the laces used were white and the panels were curved in shape.
The tournament ball bore no laces for the first time in World Cup history. Manufactured in the host country, Brazil, the tournament ball was hand sewn with 12 identical curved panels.
Featuring a more brightly coloured yellowish hue, the Swiss World Champion ball was more visible during poor weather matches. The ball was composed of 18 panels with zigzag edges.
Like the previous ones, this ball brought a new innovative coating with waterproofing wax, making them more water resistant. The ball had three colour variations: yellow, light brown and white.
The white ones were used for better visibility during matches when it was rainy.
The Crack ball had an innovative design. It was composed of 18 irregular polygonal panels. It features a latex valve that retained air longer and maintained a good spherical shape.
However, the quality of the coloured coating was poor and did not last for very long. The European teams did not like this ball, and 100 pieces of the 1958 Top Star were delivered to Chile in case the Crack model would fail in any match.
The Slazenger Challenge ball is composed of 25 rectangular panels. This ball provided excellent sphericity and came in three colours: white, yellow, and orange.
Adidas became the official supplier of tournament balls for the FIFA World Cup by the 1970s. Telstar was the very first black and white ball that would be adapted in contemporary football. The reason for the black and white colour was that it was believed this contrast will make it easier to be seen on television, as the 1970 World Cup was the first to be broadcasted on TV.
The name is derived from two words: television and star. The Telstar consisted of 32 panels, 20 white regular hexagonal and 12 black regular pentagonal. A special plastic coating was applied called “Durlast”. The coating protected the leather and helped with water resistance.
In 1978, Adidas introduced a brand-new model of the tournament ball with a revolutionary design. Tango is inspired by the classic dance of Argentina, the host of the 1978 World Cup.
The design featured 20 black curved triangles, each printed onto every white-coloured hexagonal panel that gave the illusion of circular cutouts throughout the ball’s surface. This design has been one of the most iconic tournament ball designs that will be used for years.
The Tango Durlast was a huge hit in the football world, and the 1982 World Cup adopted its design and called it Tango Espana.
The 1986 World Cup followed the footsteps of the Tango ball design but added a cultural twist in the design to represent the host country, Mexico. The black curved triangles that covered the ball featured Aztec patterns.
This ball was the first to be made out of synthetic materials and not real leather. This huge material change allowed the ball to retain its shape instantly after being kicked and was more durable in rough and wet conditions.
The Etrusco Unico match ball is inspired by the ancient Etruscan civilization. Etruscans once lived in Etruria, which originates in Italy, the host country. The design of the ball featured Etruscan lions, which were known to have guarded the civilization’s tombs.
This ball stirred quite a controversy about bringing ‘bad luck’ as only a few goals were made during that year’s tournament.
The structural design of the ball was made with multiple layers of synthetic materials, making it completely waterproof. This design was going to be adapted to future designs of the ball.
The name ‘Questra’ means ‘Quest of Stars’ and was designed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission by USA, the host country. The ball featured a galactic design on its black patterns to celebrate America's first moon landing mission.
A colourful variation of the Questra ball was also used in the 1996 Olympic games.
The first colourful World Cup match ball was the Adidas Tricolore which wore the French colours blue, white and red. This would start the trend of having the host country’s colours on the design of the ball. The pattern also had a rooster’s figure with the red Adidas logo on the top of its head. The rooster is France’s national animal.
The ball's surface is covered by tiny circles which are air bubbles in the coating. This made the ball more flexible when kicked.
The Fevernova breaks away from the traditional design and goes for something bolder, which is only fitting for the 2002 World Cup as it broke barriers. The 2002 World Cup was the first to be co-hosted and the first to be hosted in Asia by South Korea and Japan.
One of the layers was made of refined syntactic foam that allowed a more precise and predictable flight path.
The Teamgeist featured fewer panels with only 14, which reduced the amount of panel touch points that improved accuracy and control. The patterns on the design of the ball had gold accents to represent the World Cup trophy.
Jabulani means “rejoice” in Zulu, a dialect of the host country South Africa. The design featured colours and patterns that represented the nation.
The structure of the ball had eight thermally bonded 3D panels that created a rounder ball and provided more control.
The ball's name was decided by public vote, and the name ‘Brazuca’ was chosen. ‘Brazuca’ is an informal local term that means “Brazilian” or describes the Brazilian way of life.
The printed colours on the ball represented the Brazilian Bahia Bands or wish bracelets that are believed to bring good luck to the wearer.
The Telstar 18 pays homage to the 1970-1974 versions that made history as the world made great technological advancements with the first TV broadcast of the World Cup.
This ball features an NFC chip that sends radio frequency signals to the owner’s smartphone offering interactive experiences.
This ball is also the first sustainably made tournament ball using recyclable materials.
Al Rihla translates as ‘the journey' in Arabic, which is the spoken language of the host country Qatar. The ball consists of a 20-panel design inspired by Qatar's culture, architecture, iconic boats, and flag. The triangular shapes of the panels represent the sails of the traditional dhows used by Gulf countries.
The ball was designed sustainably and is the first World Cup tournament ball made exclusively with water-based inks and glues.
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