Opening game of the World Cup 2014: Brazil versus Croatia. Brazil players celebrate after scoring a goal for a 3-1 win.
Thursday, June 12, marks the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Cup is a chase that will be followed by passionate fans of soccer (or football, depending upon where you live) all around the globe. One fact about the sport is inarguable: The games would look a little silly without a ball, and the object of each team's desire has seen a lot of changes over the course of many centuries.Soccer Ball Powers Lights Through Play
In honor of the game's most important piece of equipment, let's take a look at some of the soccer balls used in the game's history. Shown here is this year's model, the adidas Brazuca, a name chosen by poll of more than one million Brazilian soccer fans. The ball wasn't always this sleek piece of high-tech wizardry, as the next slide will reveal.
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum
People have been kicking balls -- of one form or another -- around for a long, long time. The Chinese of 255 B.C. kicked leather balls into nets, and 9th-century children in Europe kicked around pig's bladders. Eventually, by the Middle Ages, someone got the idea to stitch leather over the bladder to make a more durable, more reliably rounded thing to kick.Pro Soccer Players Have Sharper Mental Skills
Unfortunately, there are no photos of those earliest bladder-based balls. The earliest known ball we can see is this one, which resides in Scotland's Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum and is dated to the 1540s. It somehow got stuck in the rafters of the Queen's Chamber in Stirling Castle, and it was not found until work on the ceiling in the 1970s prompted its discovery.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
As we just noted, early soccer balls were often made of pig's bladders. This presented problems -- not only for pigs but for the would-be soccer players. The size and shape of the ball would depend on the bladder size, so uniformity in size of the singular tool of the soccer trade was lacking. That would begin to change, spherically speaking, once Charles Goodyear patented vulcanized rubber and balls began to transition to rubber as the bladder of choice. Now the ball could have a more uniform size, and indeed by 1872 the English Football Association deemed that soccer balls should be as spherical as possible and should measure 27-28 inches in circumference. Even today, that's the official size.World Cup Players 'Pre-Cool' With Ice Vests
Shown here is the football team of the 1st Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), 1896, holders of the Army Football Association Challenge Cup. The ball does certainly look kickable.
Though it's a fixture today, the first World Cup did not take place until 1930. Here we see the ball used in the 1930 World Cup final, on display at the National Football Museum.Military Robots To Patrol World Cup
The two final teams, Argentina and Uruguay, had an argument about which ball to use, so two balls were used, one in each half. The first-half ball, chosen by Argentina, was a 12-panel ball, while this ball, chosen by the Uruguayan team, was used in the second half and was a common "T-model," with five rows of laces. (There were actually two T-model balls used in the second half; the first ball deflated.) Uruguay won the match and became the inaugural winner of the World Cup.
The 1970 World Cup in Mexico marked adidas's first official World Cup soccer ball, and the company has provided official match balls ever since. This ball ushered in the advent of the prototypical soccer ball look. The classic design alternated white hexagons and black pentagons in 32 hand-stitched panels covering the ball. The ball has an iconic look that to this day is probably the image people carry in their heads of a "soccer ball." One of the goals behind its two-tone look was to create a ball that would really stand out on black-and-white televisions.'Iron Man' Paraplegic to Kick First World Cup Ball
As we will see in the following quick snapshots, the World Cup ball always has at least a design or structural tweak to accompany the latest competition.
For the 1974 World Cup, adidas supplied two match balls: the adidas Telstar and adidas Chile. The logo changed from gold to black with the new balls.VIDEO: Does Cutting Out Sex Improve Sports Performance?
The 1978 World Cup in Argentina brought a major change in look, with use of the adidas Tango, which put 20 identical circles across the ball.The Extraordinarily Brutal Extreme Sports of Ancient History
Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982, and for this set of games the ball, the adidas Tango Espana, changed in a key but non-visual way: It employed waterproof, sealed seams that helped the ball avoid becoming waterlogged during wet match conditions.10 Extremely Unusual Sports You've Probably Never Heard Of
Big structural changes were afoot with the 1986 ball for the Mexico matches. The adidas Azteca became the first completely synthetic, polyurethane-coated match ball. The Azteca provided a more durable ball that was even less susceptible to water absorption. Visually, the ball was the first design to use imagery from the host nation -- drawing on influences from Aztec architecture and murals.VIDEO: Why Sports Are Unfair
Tucked under 1990's adidas Etrusco Unico was a new layer of polyurethane foam that rendered it fully water-resistant. Host country Italy's history and Etruscan art figured in the design.
In the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, the adidas Questra was the official match ball. The ball was now softer to touch and was faster to come off the foot, thanks to an external layer of polystyrene foam. The rocket imagery on the ball represented U.S. space technology and the country's continuing quest for the stars.10 Weird Sports of Olympics Present and Past
The World Cup moved to France in 1998, and the adidas Tricolore became the first multi-colored match ball. The ball, which used French national colors, also incorporated new printing methods aimed at improving the visibility of the ball.
Korea and Japan hosted the 2002 World Cup, and those matches featured the bright, colorful adidas Fevernova, inspired by Asian culture.Too Hot to Run? New Designs Offer Cooling Aid
The adidas Teamgeist match ball, for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, made huge design changes by decreasing the number of panels, creating a smoother surface that helped players with their accuracy and control.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw the debut of the adidas Jabulani, which employed a new technology aimed at improving grip, in any conditions. Its eight panels were molded into what the company hailed as its most round and accurate ball yet. With this year's Brazuca, a six-panel design has been engineered by adidas to improve grip, stability and aerodynamics. According to the company, more than 600 top soccer players were involved in testing of the ball, which, it's hoped, will fly truer than any prior World Cup soccer ball. Let the games begin.
Does momentum exist? Most athletes and coaches say yes, but psychologists say that it's really about how players tune themselves in and out of games, and when they put it to rigorous testing, they often find it is tough to measure.
This weekend, sports fans can tune into the World Cup in Brazil, the NBA finals or the NHL finals. In each case, teams are relying on momentum to carry them through each match, as well as mutli-game championship tournaments.
"Psychological momentum is objective in the sense that if you are up you have the momentum," said Richard Lustberg, a sports psychologist in New York City who works with many athletes. "It's whoever is ahead."
Lustberg works with professional and amateur athletes to help them get the best out of their game. He says that momentum is often something that can be instilled by coaches on the sideline or team leaders on the field or court. When a team is losing, the players need to figure out how to reconnect to the finely-tuned athletic skills that got them there in the first place.
"It's extremely important how coaches interact and give the team some plausible cause why they can recover and win," Lustberg said. "One of the crucial things is how they coach or the leaders of the team come in and give them a reason to believe."
That could be happening today in two lockers room as the New York Rangers try to come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Kings for the NHL title, and as the Miami Heat try to rebound from a 3-1 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA.
Lustberg says that for either the Rangers of Heat to win, the entire team needs to remain focused on the game, including the bench-warmers. He does this with his athlete-patients.
"I have the player focus on the game rather than on his performance," Lustberg said. "I make him an observer of the game so that he's an active participant."
Academic researchers still appear to be divided on whether the concept is real or not, according to several academic papers.
An study of Wimbledon tennis matches in the mid-1990s found small positive and negative effects of momentum, while another in 2012 found evidence for psychological momentum in hockey, especially right after a fight between opposing players.
Opening game of the World Cup 2014: Brazil versus Croatia. Brazil players celebrate after scoring a goal for a 3-1 win. Corbis
But a 1985 study found that basketball players and fans believed "a player's chance of hitting a shot are greater following a hit than following a miss on the previous shot," but neither a statistical analysis of two NBA teams' shooting records nor a controlled experiment with collegiate basketball players backed it up.
One recent study on momentum in professional football looked at more than 500,000 video replays in the NFL and tried to tease apart whether a big play on defense led to the offense moving the ball or scoring. It didn't, according to Aaron William Johnson, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who submitted a paper to the Sloan Sports Conference in 2012.
"Me and my co authors are big football fans and we wanted to see if there was evidence for it," said Johnson, who is in department of aeronautics and astronautics. "We can't say it doesn't exist, but we couldn't find it."
Johnson and other academics look at something called the momentum chain, a six-step process that transforms a psychological action into a physical change and finally a change in performance and outcome on the field. Johnson noted that the chain often gets a few kinks in a team sport.
"It's a complex chain and when you have 22 players," he said. "There's a lot of places for this to get lost."
In the World Cup, one aspect of momentum appears to hold true. Teams that win their first game are likely to move deeper into the tournament. Since 1998, only 4 of 46 teams that lost their first game have advanced to the round of 16.
Meanwhile, 84.8 percent of teams that won their first game and 58.3 percent of teams that drew their first game advanced, according to the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps that's why the U.S. men's national team, as well as every other World Cup squad, is eager to win right away.