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May 4, 2011

Umbro Neo 2011 FA Cup Final ball

Rating:

Most English football fans spend their childhood dreaming of scoring a winning goal in the FA Cup final at Wembley, but barring the last-ditch appearance of some shrewd Stoke and Man City scouts at Ladbroke Grove five-a-side pitches, that boyhood fantasy will remain just that on May 14.

While I try to get over the fact that my services have been overlooked by the cup finalists for another year, I can at least be comforted by the knowledge that I will be able to bang in a few goals with the same ball that the Stoke and City players will be knocking around the Wembley turf.

The Umbro Neo 2011 FA Cup Final ball is another superb offering from these most reliable of English sports manufacturers. The ball is an excellent weight so it will not evoke memories of the hefty pigs' bladder models used in the competition's early days, nor the much-maligned Jabulani, the lightweight offering that spent many an evening in the stands of South African stadia.

There's a good, cushioned feel to the ball, allowing easy and reliable control with your first touch. I found this was especially helpful in levelling out the playing field in our Wednesday five-a-side meetings, as it gave the poorer players a greater margin for error. Obviously I was okay.

Despite often being criticised for their propensity to use long balls, Stoke have actually played some attractive football on the ground this season and they will benefit just as much as Man City's expensively-assembled squad from a ball that is very conducive to pass-and-move style. However, should Stoke return to the ways of the Rory Delap throw and crossing at every opportunity, they will happily find a ball that has a consistent flight and reliable trajectory.

Similarly, the Umbro Neo 2011 FA Cup Final ball is good value for striking from distance and if you shoot with the correct technique - rarely on show on the pitches of West London - it will fly solidly and directly towards the desired target. Carlos Tevez remains a doubt for the final but, should he play, the man who managed to control the unpredictable Jabulani with a scorcher against Mexico at last summer's World Cup will rightly fancy his chances with some long-range efforts at Wembley.

The ball delivers the sort of quality that has come to be expected of Umbro and, whether it's Roberto Mancini or Tony Pulis lifting the famous trophy aloft on May 14, at least the dream of experiencing my own FA Cup glory will live on through the latest edition of the Umbro Neo.

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