The feel and behaviour of the 2018 World Cup matchball, theTelstar 18, has caused a sense of unease among the goalkeepers who have come into contact with it so far - and their trepidation has been substantiated by Dani Alves. Alves explains that the Telstar 18 is an absolute joy for those shooting with it, but a nightmare for those who have to second guess its trajectory and try and stop it. It encourages players to shoot from distance because if the ball is struck well, it fizzes through the air but loses none of its intensity on impact, as Joaquín Maroto notes. It’s a description which conjures up the famous Muhammad Ali one liner “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Anyway, it’s a ball which players who like having a shot from outside the box will love. That was evident from Thomas Müller’s piledriver in Düsseldorf the other night. The question for us is how can Spain make the most of the Telstar 18 and its qualities? And that’s a difficult one to answer.
Spain devoid of hotshots
In Lopetegui’s preferred starting line-up there are no shooting specialists. We have exquisite passers of the ball – the likes of Iniesta, Isco, Silva and Thiago – exponents of luxurious, silky-smooth, pass-and-move football. Spain tend to pass their way right up to their opponents’ area, and continue combining once they are inside it. Older, Argentinean fans might recall River Plate’s fabled Máquina frontline of Muñoz-Moreno-Pedernera-Labruna and Loustau who were dubiously dubbed the Knights of Anguish (Los Caballeros de la Angustia), because while they had no trouble reaching the rival penalty area, they generally took their time to apply the killer finish. In Germany last week, Spain played and combined to perfection, but only mustered two shots on goal: one from Rodrigo (which entered) and another one from Isco which Ter Stegen parried.
Golden chance for Saúl, Parejo and Asensio
Only three players spring to mind in the Spain squad who will happily have a pop from outside the box. One is Saúl, who we have seen score some superb long-range efforts. Another is Dani Parejo, a virtuoso when it comes to striking the ball and a player who has also scored some memorable goals from distance in his time. Then of course we have Asensio, who always has one eye on the goal and who has put away some brilliant strikes from outside the area – the two he bagged in the Supercup against Ter Stegen were confirmation of that. As it stands, none of them are guaranteed starters but who knows if their shooting skills, coupled with the unpredictability of the mercurial Telstar 18, won’t enable them to gain more minutes in Russia, and maybe Lopetegui will consider bringing them on earlier in Spain’s games. Who knows? perhaps we will start to gain a clear picture at the Wanda tomorrow night...