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Goalkeepers are the victims of FIFA - Talking balls at Russia 2018

19 iunie 2018 09:00

Veteran Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary has seen more than most over the course of a remarkably enduring career.

The 45-year-old was poised to become the oldest player in World Cup history last week, only for Egypt boss Hector Cuper to prefer Mohamed El-Shenawy for the opening Group A loss to Uruguay.

Having made his international debut in 1996, El Hadary has lived through the conjecture of numerous supposed advances in match ball technology – a topic for conversation every time a World Cup rolls around as Adidas treat FIFA to their latest much-trumpeted interpretation.

Grumbling from the goalkeeping community is generally never too far behind and its most senior citizen at Russia 2018 let out a weary chuckle when the Telstar 18 came up ahead of Egypt's crunch showdown with Russia in St Petersburg.

"Yes, we are the victims of FIFA and the ever-developing football," he said. "Every four years there are new footballs.

"The football might be more acceptable to the players than to the goalkeepers. Sometimes there are problems and the goalkeepers are always the victims.

"Whenever there are new balls we need to be able to practice more. This ball has some problems but all the goalkeepers are facing that problem.

"Maybe the balls are not always of good quality or acceptable to the goalkeepers but as goalkeeper we have to be ready."

In fairness, we are nowhere near the levels of Jabulani hysteria – Adidas' infamous giant leap for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that Gianluigi Buffon described as "horrible" amid a wave of criticism that included condemnation from NASA.

But the tally of three direct free-kicks scored at this tournament already matches the number netted during the entirety of Brazil 2014, with further long-range goals casting possible light on the "problems" El Hadary alludes to.

The sight of two burst Telstar 18s during France v Australia was a moment Adidas will want to forget, given their assurances over a ball "engineered to provide performance and durability both in the stadium and on the street," following rigorous testing assisted by the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

David de Gea described it as "really strange" before his performance in Spain's 3-3 draw against Portugal that would fit a similar description.

"I know what you're talking about. There was a lot of criticism against this ball but we cannot change anything now," Igor Akinfeev, the goalkeeper and captain of the hosts, said as he sounded a more diplomatic tone to El Hadary, while decked out in his Adidas regalia pre-match.

"There is a sponsor that brings in the ball for the tournaments like this. We have to keep the ball, we have to make it stick to our palms.

"Technologies are improving. Footballers are scoring from 40 metres. A ball is a ball – what can I say?"

Before a pivotal World Cup encounter at Krestovsky Stadium, it seems the goalkeepers' union will once again have a fertile topic for discussion when they line-up in the tunnel.

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