Jozy Altidore is taken from the pitch on a stretcher after picking up an injury during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group G preliminary round match between Ghana and the USA.
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.
Heat, humidity and flexibility are all risk factors for pulls and strains in top athletes.
The first week of the World Cup in Brazil has seen a rash of injuries to star players: Jozy Altidore of the United States, Brazil's "Hulk," as well as starters for Italy, Germany and Portugal. Is it the Brazilian heat and humidity, opening game nerves, or is something else going on?
Sports medicine experts say that it's likely a combination of factors including players that are adapting to a new environment for the four-week championship tournament. U.S. Soccer team physician George Chiampas said the muscle injuries Monday to Altidore and Matt Besler -- and broken nose of forward Clint Dempsey -- are part of every professional soccer game.
"That's why you have 23 players," Chiampas told Discovery News from Sao Paulo. "There are things out of your control. You have to prepare for that and it's part of the World Cup. Everybody understands that."
Chiampas said some games finish with no injuries, while others leave players bloodied with cuts and other kinds of injuries. "It's difficult to predict," he said.
Chiampas and other members of the medical staff have been preparing the U.S. Men's National Team for several months for the rigors of Brazil's climate, including training camp in Stanford, Calif., and several days in the swampy conditions of Jacksonville, Fla., right before arriving in Sao Paolo.
Still, pre-tournament fatigue could be a factor. Some players, like Altidore, have just completed eight or nine months of a brutally tough European season. Others, like Dempsey, are only a few months into their domestic Major League Soccer schedule. They might be more rested and ready.
"Every team is trying to get their athletes to ideal readiness," said Stephen Rice, director of the Jersey Shore Sports Medicine Center. "They also want to get fit and that means pushing up to the edge. The margin for stepping over the edge can get tight."
Jozy Altidore is taken from the pitch on a stretcher after picking up an injury during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group G preliminary round match between Ghana and the USA.Corbis
A pulled hamstring, the injury that felled Altidore 21 minutes into the first U.S. match, occurs when a player is either accelerating or slowing down. It often happens when the quadriceps muscle that contracts to move the leg forward overpowers the hamstring on the back of the leg. Hamstring injuries happen to short and tall athletes equally, but those who are naturally tighter are at greater risk.
"They normally happen to athletes that don't have a strong global flexibility program," said Lewis Maharam, medical director of the New York City Marathon and past president of the New York College of Sports Medicine. He said warming up is important, but "if you stretch right before you perform, even with sprinters, you will be slower."
Maharam noted that athletes playing in higher-than-normal heat and humidity could be at greater risk to injury. That's because the body's blood flow is diverted to the skin to keep you cool, and not available to move muscles.
"If you come from a cool, dry climate and try to play in a hot, wet, humid environment (without) enough time to acclimate," Maharam said, "you will feel weary very quickly."
Chiampas, the U.S. soccer team physician, said the team has worked for months on preparations for Brazil's climate and the fatiguing effects of travel. The 23 U.S. players have to fly 11,000 miles across Brazil for their first three games.
"A lot of people don't realize the amount of work that goes in while we are here and our training staff works tirelessly on these players," Chiampas said.
"We spend a lot of time with fitness coaches, physical therapists and trainers ensuring more time off the field so the muscles recover and playes get the treatments they need every day."
The U.S. flies to the Amazon jungle city of Manaus this weekend for a Sunday match against Portugal, where forecasts show temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity above 75 percent.
Altidore is not likely to start, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters yesterday that he "was full of hope" that the star forward could return before the end of the U.S. team's run in Brazil.