Footballs that defined history: A look at iconic footballs of past FIFA World Cups

footballs of past FIFA World Cups

As the world of football has progressed in terms of rules, techniques and expectations, so has the technology that goes into making the most important aspect of the game; the ball. From hand-made balls made out of a pig’s bladder to the machine made synthetic balls, they sure have come a long way from the very first World Cup held in Uruguay in 1930. Here is a list of the most iconic and even controversial footballs of past FIFA World Cups.


1930, Uruguay: Tiento & T-Model

For the first ever World Cup held in Uruguay, there was actually no official ball. However, both Argentina and Uruguay had brought along balls that they wanted to play with, Argentina had the Tiento and Uruguay had the T-Model, and since they both made it to the final, there was a big argument about which ball to use.

They finally settled for the Tiento, which gave the Argentinian’s a visible edge and allowed them to score 2 goals for Uruguay’s 1. However, it was decided that the second half of the match would be played with the T-Model, which allowed the Uruguayan team to score 2 goals and win the first ever FIFA World Cup.


1934, Italy: Federale 102

The second World Cup was held in Italy, which was under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini at that time. And this time there was an official ball called the Federale 102. The ball was made both in England and in Italy, and it had a relatively softer exterior, which made it easier for the players to head the ball and control it.

But since there was no machinery to make the balls and each ball was hand-made, the quality of the ball depended much on the skill of the inflater, and it tended to vary quite a bit. So at the beginning of each match, an array of balls were shown to both the captains and then they would choose the most suitable one. The final match was played with an English ball but it was the Italians who won the title this time around.

Federale 102.jpg
By MDBROwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


1950, Brazil: Duplo T

It had been 12 years since the last World Cup was held in France. The last two cups had been cancelled because of the Second World War. But it had been five years since WW2 was over and things were surely looking up. Moreover, this 12 year gap had actually been a blessing in disguise, as it gave football developers plenty of time to improve their technology.

The result was Duplo T, a significantly more rounder ball than any balls that preceded it. The secret to the roundness of this ball was that it was a completely closed leather sphere without any laces, which meant that you could inflate it with a pin and a pump, like one does with balls today. This also meant that it was the first ball that was used in every single match of the tournament.

Duplo T-1950.jpg
By MDBROwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

1970, Mexico: Telstar

The next, and perhaps the most significant development is the history of balls at FIFA was undoubtedly in 1970 when FIFA handed over the task of providing balls to Adidas. Adidas came up with the Telstar, a plain black and white 32 panel ball, but little did it know that this particular design would become so iconic that it would come to be synonymous with the idea of football itself.

This was also the first time that the World Cup was going to be telecast on the television, hence the black and white design was adopted in order to improve visibility. Whereas this wasn’t the first black and white ball that was used to play, it was the one FIFA picked and that’s what sent it spiraling into the history of the game.

footballs of past FIFA World Cups

The original telstar










1978, Argentina: Tango

Nowadays, every ball is designed keeping the hosts of the world cup in mind, be it the Brazuca for Brazil or the Jabulani for South Africa. This certainly wasn’t the norm back then, and it all started when Adidas introduced the Tango for Argentina as a tribute to their signature dance.

Instead of a regular black and white pattern, it had a black triangles arranged in circles which created a mesmerizing effect when the ball was rolled. Adidas was quite unsure whether this ball would be well received by the public, and they even made a backup ball called the Telstar 1978 in case this didn’t work. But the crowd immediately liked the Tango, and it has since become one of the most popular balls ever.

Adidas Tango.jpg
By Warren Rohner from Cape Town, South Africa – Tango, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link


1998, France: Tricolore

20 years is certainly a long time to stick with one design, but when something works, it is hard to part from it. Taking ahead the same base design of the Tango, Adidas added color for the first time; the three colors of the French flag.

It had a better quality of foam which made it softer and faster, but the most important advancement was the adding of color. This facet had never been explored before, and it opened up endless possibilities of what one could do with the design of the ball.

footballs of past FIFA World Cups

Football inspired by the French











2002, South Korea and Japan: Fevernova

Realizing this new found freedom with color, Adidas had a drastic paradigm shift in terms of the design of this ball. They ditched every pattern set before and went for a large triangular pattern in the middle of the ball. They also kept developing it throughout the tournament, and players noted that the balls used at the later stages of the tournament were considerably lighter than the ones used at the beginning.

Different players had vastly different opinions about this ball, though. Strikers like David Beckham hailed it to be one of the most perfect ball ever made but Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon called it a “crazy, bouncing ball”. Still, it wasn’t universally regarded as a bad ball, as the next one on our list was.

Fevernova (4592803569).jpg
By warrenski from Cape Town, South Africa – Fevernova, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link


2010, South Africa: Jabulani

With the Jabulani, Adidas’ expertise in making balls was really called into question. In its quest to make the roundest ball, they made the ball extremely smooth and decreased the panels from 14 in the Teamgeist (2006 official ball) to just 8, which made it really unpredictable when it moved through the air.

This made it nothing short of a nightmare to all goalkeepers, who weren’t shy in sharing their criticisms. Brazilian Julio Cesar said it was like one of the cheap footballs sold at the supermarkets, and Spanish Iker Casillas called it “horrible”.

This ball is probably the most famous ball that Adidas ever created, but for all the wrong reasons.

footballs of past FIFA World Cups

The infamous Jabulani








The 2018 ball is in

This year’s ball is the Telstar 18, which is a nostalgic throwback to the original Telstar of 1970. It has a similar black and white pattern, and is the first black and white ball since the Tricolore in 1998. It has been tested extensively in other junior tournaments preceding the FIFA World Cup, but some people have still raised concerns about it, claiming it is a bit too slippery to properly hold. How it really is will only be revealed once it is kicked off by the Russians in their first match against Saudi Arabia, which is now only a day away.

footballs of past FIFA World Cups

The new Telstar 18








That was a brief look at footballs of past FIFA World Cups, we hope the Telstar 18 also creates new memories which would become an integral part of the FIFA World Cup lore.

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