Football aerodynamics explains great moments?

Fernando Torres

Ever wondered how some great footballers were able to do miraculous things with the ball?

An American scientist, who carried out an aerodynamic study of the soccer ball, claimed that asymmetric air forces, design of the ball and surface roughness might have helped them do the magic.

The wicked shot by Brazil's Maicon from an impossible angle against North Korea and Argentinian Carlos Tevez's stunning goal against Mexico in the ongoing FIFA World Cup in South Africa can be viewed as examples of how some players were able to make a soccer ball do things that would seem to defy the forces of nature.

John Eric Goff, physics professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia, found that the ball's changing design, its surface roughness and asymmetric air forces contribute to the ball's path once it leaves a player's foot.

His analysis, appeared in the journal Physics Today, leads to an understanding of how reduced air density in games played at higher altitudes -- like those in South Africa - can contribute to some of the jaw-dropping ball trajectories already seen in some of this year's matches. "The ball is moving a little faster than what some of the players are used to," said Goff, who is also an expert in sports science.

For Goff, soccer is a sport that offers more than non-stop action -- it is a living laboratory where physics equations are continuously expressed. "On the fields of worldwide competition, the balls manoeuvre according to complicated formulae, but these can be explained in terms the average viewer can easily understand," he said.

And the outcomes of miraculous plays can be explained simply in terms of the underlying physics, he added.

Goff is the author of the recently published book, "Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports", which uncovers the mechanisms behind some of the greatest moments in sports history.

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