Adidas unveiled the Al Rihla, the 14th consecutive match ball supplied for a FIFA World Cup by the manufacturer in a relationship that dates back over 50 years.
In all, there have been 22 different ball designs used since the first World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930, with the Adidas era only beginning with the introduction of the classic Telstar ball at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Since the first World Cup was held in 1930 the changing materials and designs used for soccer balls is a way of charting the evolution of the game itself over the past century, from a more unsophisticated era to the ultramodern professionalism of today.
We take a look at the balls used at every World Cup, from the first one staged in Uruguay almost 100 years ago to that which will be used when the latest edition kicks off in November.
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1930 World Cup, Uruguay (Tiento and T-Model)
There was no official ball produced for the first-ever World Cup, with a number of different designs used throughout the tournament in Uruguay. Unusually, the final between the hosts and rivals Argentina began with a squabble over which country would provide the match ball, leading to a compromise that saw the first half played with Argentina’s model of choice (the Tiento) before being swapped out for the Uruguayans’ preferred ball (the T-Model) at half-time. Argentina were 2-1 up at the interval before Uruguay scored three goals with their larger, heavier ball in the second half to win 4-2 and take their place as inaugural champions of the world. Make of that what you will.
1934 World Cup, Italy (Federale 102)
Manufactured by ECAS (Ente Centrale Approvvigionamento Sportivi, the Italian government’s central body for sport supplies) in Rome, the Federale was perhaps most notable for being the first World Cup ball to replace thick hardened-leather laces for cotton ones. As well as improving the binding between panels, using softer laces to stitch the ball together made heading the Federale less of a headache, if you’ll excuse the pun. Pictured holding the ball here is former Czechoslovakia captain Frantisek Planicka, who led his nation to the final where they lost 2-1 to the hosts.
1938 World Cup, France (Allen Coupe du Monde Officiel)
Produced by the Allen factory in Paris, the Coupe du Monde ball was similar in appearance to the Federale with its 13-panel construction, cotton laces and dark brown cowhide outer shell. However, the edges of the Allen’s individual panels were much more rounded than the 1934 ball which made it rounder and more predictable. It also had to be hand-stitched and hand-inflated by a skilled worker to achieve a spherical finish.
1950 World Cup, Brazil (Superball Duplo T)
Thanks to the technical advances made during the 12-year gap between tournaments due to World War II, the World Cup in 1950 witnessed a minor revolution in the design and manufacture of the official match ball. Gone were the panels and laces of yesteryear and in came the Duplo T, which featured a moulded rubber valve through which the enclosed internal bladder could be inflated by a simple hand pump, much like all modern-day footballs. The concept had already been in use in Argentinian football for many years beforehand but the syringe valve design wasn’t cleared by FIFA for use at World Cups until 1950.
1954 World Cup, Switzerland (Kost Sport Swiss World Champion)
The Swiss World Champion was the first 18-panel leather ball used at a major football tournament, with a more daring yellow colour and interlocking “W” panels lending the ball a modernised look.
1958 World Cup, Sweden (Top Star)
Made by Swedish company Sydlader AB, which was founded in 1914 and initially produced leather drive belts for industrial and agricultural machinery. Sydlader was appointed as official ball suppliers for the ’58 World Cup after the Top Star was chosen in a blind test of over 100 designs by a panel of FIFA officials. Each team was then provided with 30 of the balls for use during the tournament. France forward Just Fontaine clearly liked it: He scored 13 goals in six matches in Sweden, a record for a single tournament which has never been bettered.
1962 World Cup, Chile (Custodio Zamora Mr Crack)
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With an 18-panel design inspired by a volleyball, the Crack was a chrome coloured ball that had a smoother, rounder surface (and hence better, more uniform behaviour) than any other World Cup match ball. It was also the last World Cup ball to be provided by a locally tendered company, with Senor Custodio Zamora of San Miguel charged with producing it especially for the tournament. Unfortunately, due to issues with abrasion, brittleness and waterlogging, the Crack was dismissed as inadequate by players and officials alike, leading to a variety of hastily sourced alternatives being used throughout the tournament instead.
1966 World Cup, England (Slazenger Challenge 4 Star)
After the Crack proved to be anything but, FIFA decided that they would eschew local manufacturers and instead entrust the supply of World Cup match balls to established multinational sports companies. The first such offering was the Slazenger Challenge 4 Star, a 25-panel ball with a latex valve produced in white, bright orange and yellow and selected before the tournament by the English FA in another blind test. The orange variant was chosen for the final as England beat West Germany 4-2 in extra time to lift the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley. Here, former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown (right) holds the 1966 ball as ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter marvels at the 1930 version.
1970 World Cup, Mexico (Adidas Telstar)
The Adidas era began in 1970 with the introduction of the original Telstar, a 32-panel “truncated icosahedron” design that came to define what a typical football would look like for decades to come. Named after a similarly spherical U.S. satellite, a total of 20 Telstars were supplied by Adidas for use at the tournament, meaning they weren’t used in every game, with miscellaneous unmarked brown and white balls used at some matches as well. The distinct two-tone design of the Telstar also made the ball easier to follow for people watching matches at home on black-and-white televisions, though an all-white “Chile Durlast” variation was also used in some games.
1974 World Cup, West Germany (Adidas Telstar Durlast)
Fundamentally the same design as the original Telstar, the Durlast featured a new, thin polyurethane coating over the leather panels that improved its resistance against waterlogging and abrasion. The tournament was a home triumph both for Adidas and the West Germany team, which lifted the trophy after beating Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands in the final.
1978 World Cup, Argentina (Adidas Tango)
One of the most iconic soccer balls of all time, the Tango was introduced for the 1978 World Cup and lasted for many years with only a few minor alternations made to the design. The ’78 Tango consisted of 20 hexagonal handstitched panels coated in a thin plastic “Durlast” membrane to help guard against waterlogging. The graphic design also used triangular markings on each panel to create the illusion of white circles all over the surface, which helped players track the spin of the ball through the air more easily.
1982 World Cup, Spain (Adidas Tango Espana)
So widely popular was the Tango design that it lasted Adidas from 1978, through the 1982 World Cup in Spain and on to the European Championships and Olympic Games of 1988. The ’82 Espana edition received only very minor cosmetic updates, though the seams were rubberised to improve its water resistance. The Espana is also notable for being the last fully leather ball to be used at a World Cup tournament before the dawn of the synthetic era.
1986 World Cup, Mexico (Adidas Azteca)
While the Tango was still in use, Adidas decided that a brand new ball was required for the 1986 World Cup and hence the Azteca was created. While resembling the Tango with its hand-sewn 32-panel design, the Azteca was manufactured using 100% synthetic materials and the triangular designs on the panels featured elaborate detailing inspired by Aztec frescoes and culture. It also holds a unique place in football history by being the ball that Argentina’s Diego Maradona punched over the head of England goalkeeper Peter Shilton for his infamous “Hand of God” photo en route to winning the tournament.
1990 World Cup, Italy (Adidas Etrusco Unico)
Much like the Azteca before it, the Etrusco Unico drew inspiration for its design by the ancient culture of the World Cup host nation. Rather than Aztec art, the 20 triangular triads on the Unico ball were gilded with a depiction of the lions heads regularly found in countless works of Etruscan sculpture, jewellery, fine art and architecture. The Etrusco Unico was also the first World Cup ball to feature an internal layer of black polyurethane foam beneath the outer shell to help provide further protection against waterlogging and to improve the durability and rebound quality.
1994 World Cup, United States (Adidas Questra)
Although its name conjured images of man’s ancient quest to reach the stars and the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Questra was in essence the latest in a succession of Tango clones. Visually very similar to the three World Cup match balls that preceded it, the Questra featured the same pentagonal panel design used on the Azteca and Estruco Unico, though the flourishes in the detailing this time reflected the wonders of space exploration. The Questra was also much lighter than previous World Cup balls, leading attacking players to commend its ability to swerve and curl and goalkeepers to bemoan its unpredictability in the air.
1998 World Cup, France (Adidas Tricolore)
Fittingly, the Tricolore was the first multicoloured ball to be used at a World Cup, with the traditional monochrome palette updated to reflect the traditional colours of the host nation: red, white and blue. While the fundamental design of the ball remained unchanged, the cockerel and the flag were selected as the traditional symbols of France to be incorporated into the triad motif. The Tricolore was also the last World Cup match ball to bear the now-iconic “Tango” aesthetic as Adidas began to experiment with new manufacturing techniques and altogether more daring colourways.
2002 World Cup, Japan/South Korea (Adidas Fevernova)
The Fevernova saw Adidas break away from the traditional Tango design in favour of a radical offset graphic inspired by Asian culture, which consisted of a three-pronged golden shape (inspired by a Japanese “tomoe” symbol) and red streaks meant to resemble the ancient art of calligraphy. Despite being constructed using 11 different layers, the ball was widely criticised for being far too light and unpredictable, largely as a result of the airy synthetic foam used as padding inside the rubbery polyurethane exterior.
2006 World Cup, Germany (Adidas Teamgeist and Teamgeist Berlin)
The 2006 World Cup in Germany was the first tournament that saw a second, alternative design of the official match ball produced especially for use during the latter stages of the competition. The standard Teamgeist (meaning “team spirit”) was white with black oval-shaped banding and constructed using just 14 thermally bonded synthetic panels to create a rounder, more precise and almost entirely waterproof ball. A special golden version was produced for the final in Berlin. However, due to having fewer seams, air resistance was reduced to the point that several prominent players complained about the ball’s movement in the air, something which was fast becoming a pre-tournament tradition.
2010 World Cup, South Africa (Adidas Jabulani and Jo’bulani)
Largely remembered as one of the most troublesome World Cup match balls of all time, the Jabulani had a lively name (translating from the Zulu phrase meaning “be happy”) and an even livelier tendency to dip, swerve and balloon away into the terraces. Made from eight moulded panels, the surface of the Jabulani was also textured with thin ridges and grooves in an effort to improve aerodynamics. However, after the opening bouts of the competition were blighted with handling errors several goalkeepers including Gianluigi Buffon and Julio Cesar went public with their concerns over the unpredictability of the ball. As in 2006, a special gold-tinted version of the Jabulani was introduced for the final staged in Johannesburg, hence the name.
2014 World Cup, Brazil (Adidas Brazuca and Brazuca Rio)
The first World Cup ball to be named by public vote, the Brazuca was made from six bonded polyurethane panels and decked out in a vivid graphic inspired by Bahia bands — traditional Brazilian good luck bracelets made from colourful yarn. With the Jabulani deemed something of a failure, the emphasis was on creating an aerodynamically stable ball that performed consistently in all conditions. Thankfully, the Brazuca was able to avoid the pitfalls of its direct predecessor after undergoing two years of rigorous testing prior to the tournament. Once again, a special version was produced for the grand final in Rio de Janeiro with the green, red and blue flashes of the standard Brazuca replaced by green, gold and black.
2018 World Cup, Russia (Adidas Telstar 18 and Telstar 18 Mechta)
Harking back to the glory days of the early 1970s, Adidas updated their classic Telstar design for use in Russia. Rather than using 32 handstitched panels, the modernised Telstar was constructed from just six panels thermally bonded to create a rounder, smoother, more consistent surface. However things got off to an ominous start when two balls burst during a group-stage game between France and Australia. As has become tradition, an alternative design was rolled out for the knockout phase, with the Telstar 18 Mechta (“mechta” being a Russian word for ambition) being unveiled. The only real difference being the red speckles on the shell.
2022 World Cup, Qatar (Adidas Al Rihla)
The Al Rihla (a name that translates from Arabic into English as “the journey”) is a 20-panel design that Adidas says is inspired by the architecture, art and national flag of Qatar. In order to reduce air resistance in what could be one of the hottest World Cup finals ever, the ball appears completely seamless and the shape of the thermally bonded panels are directly inspired by the sails of the famous Dhow boats that are emblematic of the Gulf state.