Every single World Cup, it feels as though debate over the official match ball takes up almost as many column inches as the games themselves.
Whether or not the ball is good or bad tends to be beside the point a lot of the time – goalkeepers will be used to playing with one ball throughout their regular season, only to be greeted with one which behaves differently and takes some adjusting to.
It’s not just keepers who it affects, of course; the Jabulani, used at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, was accused of being too round to the point that it affected the flight of the ball for free-kicks – until folks got used to it later in the tournament.
However, with Saudi Arabia conceding five goals in their opening game against Russia, and with goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf looking shaky for one or two of them, it’s only fair we revisit what some of the keepers at the tournament have been saying about the new ball, the adidas Telstar 18.
FIFA know better than to throw the ball at the world’s finest with no preparation, at the very least.
It made its first appearance in a series of international friendlies earlier in the season, earning it a mixed reception from some of the stoppers who had to deal with it for the first time.
“The ball could be better; it moves a lot,” said Germany and Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen after a 1-1 draw with Spain in March.
Thankfully for him, he might not have to adjust, with Manuel Neuer in line to replace him in the starting line-up after returning from injury.
Ter Stegen’s opposite number that day, David de Gea, echoed the Barça man’s concerns in an interview with AS.
“It could have been made better,” the Manchester United keeper argued, presumably revealing a previously unannounced knowledge of design and technology.
Pepe Reina, meanwhile, suggested back in March that there was “still time to change” the ball before the start of the tournament, and predicted we’d see a lot of goals from range as keepers struggle to hold on to the ball.
Indeed, Al-Mayouf was beaten from range against Russia, including a late free-kick from Alexandr Golovin which some claimed he should have done better with.
As the tournament goes on, we’ll likely see the ball come under scrutiny every time a goalkeeper gets beaten from range.
Maybe, though, they’ve just made a mistake.