Mar 30, 2022

How adidas Has Shaped the History of World Cup Balls from 1970 to the Present Day

With each and every World Cup match ball it has supplied, adidas has outdone itself. The Al Rihla continues this legacy, built with the environment and equitable access to sports at its core.
by Shira Richmaneditor

Adidas was first asked to create the official World Cup match ball in 1970. This is when the classic soccer ball design was seen by the world, marking a major event in the history of World Cup balls. Before adidas became the official World Cup match ball supplier, the host countries were responsible for providing the match balls.

Each adidas World Cup match ball, from 1970-2022, showcases significant refinements to its predecessor – both technically and aesthetically. One long-term challenge was water resistance. Keeping the balls dry improves their weight, durability, and performance consistency. Throughout the history of World Cup balls, you’ll see the iterative solutions to keep water out, until a fully water–proof design was achieved. One thing stands out in the following descriptions: adidas has been tirelessly and ingeniously committed to improving the ball’s design. 

"adidas has been tirelessly and ingeniously committed to improving the ball’s design."

Shira RichmanEDITOR FOR inside3stripes

Even now, as we reveal the FIFA World Cup 2022™ match ball, plans for the next are likely already beginning.  

14. 2022 Al Rihla, Qatar

The Al Rihla is the official match ball for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
The Al Rihla - the fastest flying World Cup match ball to date - is at home in the air.

It’s time to welcome the Al Rihla – the Official Match Ball for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. Its colors were inspired by Qatar’s flag, architecture, iconic boats, and vibrant culture. And the name means ‘the journey’ in Arabic, which is fitting since the ball will take us all on a meaningful and eventful journey.  

The Al Rihla will visit 10 cities where it will play a role in launching equity-focused initiatives. These purpose-driven activations will focus attention on and resources to sports programs that increase accessibility. For instance, Al Rihla will travel to Riyadh, where it will highlight the creation of the first Saudi Arabian women’s football league champions, Challenge F.C. 

As Nick Craggs, General Manager Football explains, “At adidas, we believe sport belongs to all, and we have been committed and active in improving access and equity for our global community of footballers.”

"Al Rihla will support local communities with activations designed to create lasting impact for grassroots and beyond."

Nick CraggsGeneral Manager Football at adidas

Besides being a part of these purposeful initiatives, 1% of Al Rihla’s net sales will be donated to Common Goal. This makes Al Rihla the first World Cup ball ever to be directly involved in raising funds to impact social justiceof equitable access to sports. 

In terms of play, Al Rihla flies faster than any other World Cup ball. This means we can all look forward to a series of high-speed games. This is also the first World Cup match ball to have triangle and diamond shapes forming its 20 panels. The textured polyurethane shell has demonstrated superior accuracy and flight stability, while its CRT-core gives the ball maximum shape retention and rebound accuracy.

For some, the most amazing element of the Al Rihla is its conscientious construction.

"In the history of World Cup balls, it is the first to be made using only water-based glues and inks."

Shira RichmanEditor for inside3stripes

13. 2018 Telstar 18, Russia

The Telstar 18 is a modernised version of the original 1970 Telstar. ©CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons
Shinji Kagawa and Axel Witseli play with a red version of the Telstar 18, which was used for the knockout stage matches, the Telstar Mechta. Mechta means 'dream' or 'ambition' in Russian. ©Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The design of the Telstar 18 pays homage to the original adidas World Cup Match Ball from 1970. Building on the classic soccer ball look, the Telstar 18 is modernized – the black pentagons are pixelated, giving the impression of speed and motion. With only six panels compared to the original Telstar’s 32, the Telstar 18’s flight is exceptionally stable.

"The Telstar 18 is modernized – the black pentagons are pixelated, giving the impression of speed and motion."

SHIRA RICHMANEDITOR for inside3stripes

The ball’s panels are made of Impranil®, which is a 65% recyclable polyurethane. An additional polyurethane layer maintains the ball’s shape even in the face of extremes, such as being shot at a steel wall 2000 times at a force of 50 kilometers per hour. This was just one part of the intense testing process the ball went through before starring in the 2018 matches. 

Lionel Messi presented the ball when it was unveiled and was decidedly a fan. “I like all of it: the new design, the colors, everything,” he said. 

12. 2014 Brazuca, Brazil

The Brayuca was the first World Cup match ball with its own Twitter account. ©adidas Archive
Bastian Schweinsteiger sweeps in to steal the Brazuca from Lucas Biglia. ©Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

The Brazuca was the first ball to be named by the public. ‘Brazuca’ won with 70% of the votes over its contenders, ‘Bossa Nova’ and ‘Carnavalesca.’ Additionally, the Brazuca was the first World Cup ball to have its own Twitter account. Brazuca had 2.76 million followers. Through its 640+ tweets, the Brazuca kept its fanbase up to date on its journey to the World Cup.

"The Brazuca was the first World Cup ball to have its own Twitter account. Brazuca had 2.76 million followers."

SHIRA RICHMANEDITOR for inside3stripes

Like the Telstar 18, the Brazuca has six panels that are thermally bonded. This combination of details premiered in the Brazuca.

11. 2010 Jabulani, South Africa

The Jabulani packs a lot of cultural significance in its details. ©adidas Archive
Edgar Benitez and Makoto Hasebe vie for the Jabulani. ©Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Jabulani means ‘to celebrate’ in isiZulu. As the first World Cup to be held on the African continent, there was plenty of reason for celebration. The number of thermally bonded panels was reduced to 8 (from 14 in the previous ball), increasing spherical perfection. A grooved texture on the ball’s surface, ‘Grip ‘n’ Groove’, improved aerodynamics. 

Those who look closely will notice that there are 11 different colors on the ball. The number 11 is significant. It represents the number of players on each team, official languages in South Africa, and communities in South Africa.

History of the World Cup balls: Thermal bonding and fewer panels

10. 2006 +Teamgeist, Germany

The plus sign in +Teamgeist is not pronounced, but it is officially part of the name since the German word for 'team spirit' could not be trademarked. ©adidas Archive
Michael Ballack takes the +Teamgeist for a run. ©Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The +Teamgeist transformed soccer ball design completely. With only 14 panels, the +Teamgeist was the first ball to break from a 32-panel construction. It is also the first World Cup match ball to have its panels thermally bonded instead of being stitched together. For this ball, the firsts keep on coming – it also started the trend of having a special version for the final match.

According to one of the ball’s creators, Hans-Peter Nürnberg, the +Teamgeist’s trajectory and precision were three times better than other balls used in the highest-level competitions.  

"This ball is designed to give players unrivalled accuracy. Of course, it has spectacular action, and we would like strikers to take more risks and go for goals from every possible position."

Hans-Peter Nürnbergcreator of the +Teamgeist ball

9. 2002 Fevernova, Japan and South Korea

The Fevernova commanded attention with its bold graphic design. The large gold, green, and red three-sided shapes feature a couple of references to Japanese and Korean culture. The red marks mimic brushstrokes, as seen in the calligraphy of both nations. Additionally, the gold shape might bring to mind a three-comma tomoe common in Japan’s Shintoism or a Korean taegeuk, a related three-comma form. 

The Fevernova's bold graphic borrows from both of its host countries' cultures: Japan and South Korea. ©adidas Archive
David Trezeguet breaks away with the Fevernova. ©Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
The three-comma tomoe, mitsudomoe, is a Shinto motif that has been said to indicate a lucky spirit. ©CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Here is an example of a Korean three-comma tomoe called a Sam Taeguk. ©nagyman, BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Along with the graphics, the name projects energy, conjuring feverish excitement for the new. The ball’s internal structure was also notable. Refinements in the synactic foam, first used in the Tricolore, improved the ball’s accuracy and the consistency of its flight path. 

History of the World Cup balls: The Tango series

8. 1998 Tricolore, France

The Tricolore was the first World Cup match ball to diverge from black and white. ©adidas Archive
Goran Djorovic pushes forward as he and Ali Dali chase the Tricolore. ©Doug Pensinger/ALLSPORT

A beautiful first and last come together in the aesthetic design of this ball. As the name indicates, it has three colors and is the first World Cup match ball to veer from the traditional black and white. The Tricolore’s palette matches the French flag’s: red, white, and blue. The Tricolore was also the final World Cup match ball to use the Tango pattern (see the five World Cup match balls that preceded it) where triad shapes join together to form circles.

The Tricolore’s internal structure was also innovative. A layer of syntactic foam, formed by micro balloons, made the ball especially light, strong, and able to hold its shape.   

7. 1994 Questra, United States

The Questra features a pursuit for the stars in its visual details. ©adidas Archive
Diego Maradona and Michael Emanalo race for the Questra. ©Chris Cole/ALLSPORT

The 1994 FIFA World Cup™ took place around the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which could explain the name. Questra means quest for the stars. As with the previous Tango-based graphics, the Questra featurestheme-specific visual elements to the triads. On this ball, scenes from space decorate the ball.  

As the first World Cup to take place in the United States, where soccer was not as popular as in many other places, adidas created commercials to spread enthusiasm for the sport. In terms of physical innovation – the Questra included a layer of polystyrene foam, making it softer and fasterthan previous ones.  

6. 1990 Etrusco Unico, Italy

The Etrusco Unico highlights cultural elements of ancient Italy. ©adidas Archive
Pat Bonner dives to keep the Etrusco Unico's from entering his net. ©Simon Bruty/ALLSPORT

This ball’s name and design elements draw from Etruscan culture, a civilization of ancient Italy. Etruscan design cues can be seen in the script of the word ‘Etrusco’ as well as the lion heads on the triads. The meaning of this ball’s name is easily discernable in English, while showing Italian flair.

This was the first ball to have an accompanying apparel and footwearcollection. It was also the first World Cup ball with an internal layer of polyurethane foam, which repelled water. 

History of the World Cup balls: Synthetic materials and aesthetic connections to host countries

5. 1986 Azteca, Mexico

The Ayteca was the first World Cup match ball to include cultural references to its host country. ©adidas Archive
Victor Diogo leaps for control of the Azteca. ©Bongarts/Getty Images

The Azteca was the first non-leather World Cup match ball. Switching to synthetic materials increased durability and decreased water absorption, which offered more consistent and predictable play. The innovative materials also made it possible for the Azteca to return to its original shape better than previous balls, even when exposed to extreme pressure and force.  

The designs on the ball’s triads were inspired by Aztec temples and murals. This ball also started a trend. It was the first to customize its aesthetic design to the host country, which continued with the subsequent balls.

4. 1982 Tango España, Spain

The Tango España was the last World Cup match ball to be made of leather. ©adidas Archive
Jean Tigana angles in to keep the Tango España from Manfred Kaltz. ©Keystone/Getty Images

The Tango España’s innovations include significant improvements in water resistance. For this ball, rubber was infused in the seams to keep water out.

"Besides being the last leather World Cup match ball, the Tango España was the first ball on the World Cup stage to feature the trefoil logo."

Shira RichmanEditor for inside3stripes

3. 1978 Tango Durlast, Argentina

The Tango Durlast marks the beginning of a string of World Cup matches balls with the triad design, forming white circles and black stars. ©adidas Archive
Nico keeps pace with the Tango Durlast. ©Allsport/Getty Images

The visual design of the Tango Durlast was so successful that it extended to the next five World Cup match balls. The Tango design incorporated 20 triad shapes that formed 12 circles around each of the black pentagons. The name of the ball celebrates the dance often associated with Argentina. The tango originated in the Rio de la Plata area, along the river that separates Argentina and Uruguay.  

History of World Cup balls: The origins of the classic soccer ball look

2. 1974 Telstar Durlast, West Germany

The Telstar Durlast extended the strengths of the original Telstar, while improving water resistance. ©adidas Archive
Here the Telstar Durlast makes a penalty goal, from the force of Johannes Neeskens' kick. ©Keystone/Getty Images

The Telstar Durlast extends the successful design of the original adidas World Cup match ball, the Telstar, while drawing attention to the more prominently used polyurethane Durlast coating. As has been seen, ongoing improvements to water resistance were made in the World Cup match balls over time. This is of particular importance since a dry ball is lighter and performs more predictably than a wet one does. 

1. 1970 Telstar, Mexico

If asked to draw a soccer ball, most of us would draw a Telstar. ©adidas Archive
Stere Adamache defends his goal and stops the Telstar/s flight towards his net. ©Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Telstar was the first World Cup match ball designed by adidas, the official World Cup match ball supplier ever since. Interestingly, the Telstar was also the first ball featured in the FIFA World Cup™ to use the iconic black and white pattern of hexagons and pentagons that defines soccer ball design for many. In fact, when asked to draw a soccer ball, 99% of people drew a ball that resembles the Telstar.

"We call [the Telstar] the role model of all balls. The Godfather of all balls."

Roland Rommlerformer adidas category director for global football hardware.

The Telstar was named for its prominence on television, short for ‘television star.’ The ball’s 32 panels made up of 12 black pentagons and 20white hexagons were designed to stand out on black and white television sets. Though color TVs were less common than black and white ones at that time, the 1970 match was the first FIFA World Cup™ to be televised in color.  


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