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2014 World Cup

Technology or Tradition: The World Cup of the 21st Century

Football is a game of tradition. Across the globe, rivalries forged over decades are contested and each goal, yellow card and offside is a nod to the past.

United States forward Clint Dempsey
United States forward Clint Dempsey

Sep 6, 2013; San Jose, COSTA RICA; United States forward Clint Dempsey (8) celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick in the first half against Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas (1) in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional. Costa Rica defeated the United States 3-1. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a game of tradition.

When Manchester United lines up against Liverpool in a crucial English Premier League encounter, two timelines of history collide. When Brazil faces Argentina on neutral grass, the traditional handshake is about as friendly as the two will get. Across the globe, rivalries forged over decades are contested and each goal, yellow card and offside is a nod to the past, each foul a point ahead of a competitive spirit of yesteryear.

The World Cup is, at its most basic level, an exhibition of tradition, but in 2014, a few traditions will be broken.

Football technology has pushed the game into the 21st century, and for the first time, a few of these technologies will be used in the FIFA World Cup:

Goal-Line Technology

For the first time, and after many a call for its inclusion, goal-line technology has finally made its way to the FIFA World Cup. GoalControl GmbH, a German company whose goal-line system was also used in the Confederations Cup, will be implementing its technology in the World Cup.

Goal-Line technology hasn’t been around for a long time, but it already feels like a necessary part of the game. It made its Premier League debut this season and has become a part of the weekly broadcast, with graphics that show the ball on or behind the line. It has made an unclear part of the game a binary case of goal or no-goal and one that settles the debate on a win or a loss without much arguing.

In the last World Cup, a Frank Lampard goal was called off because the sideline referee declared it had not crossed the line. The Germans celebrated the call. The English lamented it, swarming the referee, to no avail. Those days are over.

The irony came in the history. The two sides are traditional rivals, and Germany actually won a World Cup by scoring against England on a goal that did not look to have crossed the line entirely. A part of footballing tradition – the uncertainty of the goal line goal – is now a part of the past – technology to the rescue!

Vanishing Spray

Another expected sight at the World Cup is one of the most subtle: a wall of defenders standing firm in front of a player taking a free kick. It looks like a painful form of defending, but it’s the primary example of defenders sacrificing their bodies to keep their team in the game.

Yet, look through any of the infamous free kicks in history, and you may notice that the wall creeps forward ever so slightly, a few feet at most, in order to cover the gap between defender and striker.

Vanishing spray has put an end to that kind of law breaking. It’s a type of spray that draws a white line on the grass. It looks like shaving cream. However, after a few minutes, it vanishes, leaving the grass as green as before it was sprayed. Players can’t creep forward anymore because the referee has already drawn the line, as it were – put one toe over the line, and it’ll be trouble.

It’s been used all year in Major League Soccer, and while it looks funny at first, it makes for a better free kick.

Adidas Brazuca

Every World Cup year since 1970, Adidas releases a new World Cup ball. It has been a hot topic for soccer fans and for players, who have expressed complaints about the quality of the new ball which is rolled out on World Cup day.

The 2006 Adidas Teamgeist ball was infamous for its uncontrollable swerve, with forwards unhappy with their inability to hit the ball the way they wanted to. Players said the ball behaved erratically, leaving strikers unable to curve, sweep or chip the ball the way they had grown accustomed to before.

Four years later, the 2010 Adidas Jabulani was rolled out, and it, too, received criticism. This time, goalkeepers were unhappy with the ball. Some keepers said the ball was of an unacceptable quality. Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon said “The new model is absolutely inadequate and I think it’s shameful letting play such an important competition, where a lot of champions take part, with a ball like this.”

With so much talent on display, it’s important to have a quality ball, and it seems like Adidas has finally found a formula that makes every player happy. Enter Brazuca, a ball that has character (literally, it has its own character on Twitter – @Brazuca). Its green, yellow and blue print pays homage to Brazil, the host of the World Cup, but its design is what sets it apart.

It features only six panels, wrapped around an inner-balloon that has a chip inside of it, too. It passed tests of pressure, water absorption, wind reaction and speed with flying colours. Those who have tried it praise its accuracy and weight distribution. For want of not getting too technical about a ball, here’s what this means – you’ll see less shots fly above the crossbar and more shots finding their target; that means more goals, less heartbreak, and more fun.

So, call it a day on the 32-panelled, black-and-white soccer ball of history, or the sneaky feet of a defensive wall, or the furious arguing when a ball crosses – or doesn’t cross – the goal line. Tradition replaced by technology.

Welcome, World Cup, to the 21st century. As they say in Brazil – Joga Bonito. Play Beautiful.

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