We’re nearly through group stage folks! It’s been a bizarro World Cup and I love it. All chaos and sleep deprivation aside, the lead up to Russia 18 has people chirping about kits and soccer fashion like never before. Thanks in massive part to Nike’s brazen “Naija” collection, which saw the Nigerian National team’s general release jersey sell out worldwide. Soccer kit’s are clearly transcending you’re average Joe with World Cup fever. So what’s led to all this? The kids that were raised on the over-sized, over-the-top and brash soccer design of yesteryear —are all grown up and creating things. It’s with this in mind that I decided to create a list of our (my) all-time best World Cup kits. A couple of rules before we get started 1. One kit per nation. It was a struggle between France 98 home and France 14 away, but only one made the cut. 2. The kit had to actually feature in a World Cup match. Yes, that England 90 third kit was brilliant, alas they never wore it in a match. 3. Lets argue!!!
11. Zaire 74 Home (West Germany)
Worn by: Mwepu Ilunga, Kakoko Etepé, Mavuba Mafulia.
The Story: Worn by one of the most controversial national team’s in the history of world soccer. The 1974 Zaire squad never received payment for their World Cup run and were nearly banned from returning home by their maniacal president. Complete shitstorm aside, The Zaire ‘Leopards’ rocked one of the most provocative kits of their era. At time when most team shirts were basic and unimaginative, but adidas turned heads with this one. The green strip was given yellow accents on a massive collar, three-stripes along the sleeves and the team badge which was enlarged then boldly blasted across the chest. Something like this had never been seen before and it sparked a change we really wouldn’t see until years later.
10. Holland 14 Away (Brazil)
Worn by: Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder
The story: Of all the entries I’m expecting this one to get the most flack and that’s ok. Yes the ‘Oranje’ are known as such for their iconic orange strips worn throughout the decades, but this gorgeous away number set it off with clean subtlety. The vibrant royal-blue was given a gradient treatment along with a faint, arrow print. Those orange accents seamlessly popped, especially on that over-sized team badge. This was one that killed softly. There was also this dude named Robin van Persie who immortalized the kit when he scored a diving header en route to a 5-1 massacre of the defending World Champions. There was a Puskas nomination, a myriad of memes, and large-scale murals in Amsterdam. Need I say more…
9. Italy 94 Home (USA)
Worn By: Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi
The Story: Prior to 94 Italy’s kits were, much like their playing style, no-nonsense and simple. The World Cup in the States brought a new wave of panache to shirt design and Diadora was very much on it. This time, the legendary ‘azzurri’ top was given a jacquard treatment. The Italian crest was incorporated into the fabric in an all-over print. Red, white and green triangles graced the collar trim as well as the sleeve cuffs for a subtle touch of nationalism. Add a clean 3D block numbering and you have the makings of a masterpiece. Yes, Roberto Baggio missed one of the most important penalties in soccer history, but he looked damn good in doing so, even with that dodgy ponytail.
8. Japan 98 Home (France)
Worn By: Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono, Masashi Nakayama
The Story: France 98 was hands-down my favorite World Cup for quality kits and for good reason. Primarily because It was was the last World Cup prior to Nike and adidas dominating the landscape. It meant less templates and more eye-catching flavors. Case-in-point, the Japanese 98 home strip by Asics. Just like our previous entry we see jacquard employed, only with a more flamboyant stroke. Flames taken directly from Japanese-style tattooing were woven into the ‘Blue Samurai’ shirt. Those same flames where painted white and red then sublimated onto the sleeves to match that giant collar for accents that popped. I absolutely love when a national team kit incorporates an underlying piece of the country’s culture and this blue beauty is a shining example of that.
7. Jamaica 98 Home (France)
Worn by: Robbie Earl, Frank Sinclair, Theodore Whitmore
The Story: Kappa has always held a special place in the hearts of soccer purists. It is a staple brand forever associated with the beautiful game and it has never been afraid to be audacious. A prime example of the said audacity, is the shirt worn by the ‘Reggae Boyz’ at France 98. An over-sized, bright-yellow backdrop was divided by a green/black, half-moon, zebraish print. The giant, floppy black collar was classic 90s flair and it ran to the upper chest where it was met with that iconic Kappa logo. This jersey was controlled chaos, which very much epitomized the gun-slinging heart and playing style of Jamaica’s only World Cup side to date.
6. West Germany 90 Home (Italy)
Worn by: Jürgen Klinsman, Lothar Mathäus, Rudi Vöeller
The Story: Italia 90 was the very first World Cup that vaguely graces my memory. I was barley six years of age, but there were a few things I witnessed that profoundly impacted my tiny little brain. First, was my pops screaming like a complete psychopath at a television, second, was Tony Meola’s super mullet and third, was West Germany’s kit. I didn’t know it at the time but German’s had long been associated with beautifully efficient, technical soccer. Their plain white tops became regal and synonymous with soccer royalty. Prior to the 90s, nationalism was a bit complicated for many German’s. So for Italia 90 adidas created a shirt that was not only a sign of loud soccer fashion at the time, but it evoked a brilliant, seamless geometric design that echoed ‘Die Mannchaft’s” ethos. It was also the first time ever, that Germany proudly rocked the black, red and gold seen on their nations flag.
5. USA 94 Away (USA)
Worn by: Eric Wynalda, Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas
The Story: World Cup 94 was pure magic for anyone living in the States at the time. The teams, the colors, the rabid fans that infested our streets and of course the kits. While adidas used templates for the likes of Sweden and Bulgaria, they went completely HAM with that red-blooded American ‘stars n’ stripes’ pride..literally. The home kit flaunted red and white stripes, while the away used stars as it’s focal point. Both were obviously taken from our nations flag. You can argue that adi pandered to a soccer fanbase still in its infancy, but American’s love us some in-your-face nationalism, plus the latter of the two strips is legendary. A faded denim blue was dressed up with a gorgeous, elongated star pattern. Red accents came by way of the old (better) USMNT team crest, numbering and adidas branding. Tying it all up was a classically bold, white v-neck collar and sleeve cuffs which served as a clean frame to this gem of a kit.
4. France 98 Home (France)
Worn by: Zinidine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly
The Story: Another 98 entry and Im sure another reason to argue with strangers on the internet. Yes, France always seems to be blessed with stunners but damn it, 98 was special. If it wasn’t the first, it was certainly one of the first national team kits to go back and draw design inspiration from a highly successful side within their history. With a new golden generation set to hit their peak, adidas dipped into its archives to the last and only time ‘Les Bleus’ had won a major trophy— the 1984 European Championship. That horizontal red line followed by three more white ones was taken directly from Michel Platini’s 84 jersey then placed on a more modern 90s fit. The legendary blue shirt was baggy as all hell, with the thickest three-stripes along the sleeves which led into even thicker cuffs and a gigantic collar Cantona would’ve salivated over. King Eric didn’t play in 98, but Zizou and co. didn’t need him.
3. Croatia 98
Worn by: Davor Šuker, Slaven Bilić, Igor Tudor
The Story: Lotto, much like Kappa, Umbro and Diadora is another brand that has lost it’s footing, but will forever be woven into the fabric of soccer shirt history. They are responsible for some of the most iconic kits in world football. My favorite of their remarkable catalog is the one worn by Davor Šuker and Co. when they stunned the world at France 98. Barely 7 years old as a nation, Croatia would somehow beat Germany and Holland en route to an unbelievable third place finish. This white, classically over-sized 90s kit somehow made a flowing, red-checkered print look fly as hell. The nationalistic design proved poignant as it was the first time a young nation had a team to root for—and damn was it a good one. It also ended up influencing every design to date, as every Croatia jersey since, has heavily employed those bold red checkers in some form.
2. Nigeria 18 Home (Russia)
Worn by: Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Kalechi Iheanacho
The Story: Of course it made it. Of course it’s one of the best kits of all time, don’t @ me! Actually @ me, lets fight! All silliness aside Nike and the Nigerian Federation completely destroyed these kits and the entire ‘Naija’ collection. It’s not only that the jersey is vibrant and jaw-dropping at the core of it’s design, it obviously is. But the truth is it is much more than that. To paraphrase my man Justin Salhani ” It is the story. It’s because it ties back to their culture.” Nigerian players have always been adored for their flair, technical ability and genius on the ball. Legends like Ococha, Yekin and Kanu did it at the highest level, paving the way for ‘Naija’ —which stands for a future based optimism. Nike was very much aware of this as the jersey also draws subtle design from the first time Nigeria qualified for a World Cup in 94. The most hyped kit in history is a visual stunner that pays homage to Nigeria’s past, present and future. That is why it is one of the best ever.
1. Mexico 98 Home (France)
Sponsor: ABA Sport
Worn by: Luis Hernandez, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Alberto García Aspe
The Story: As an American born to Mexican and Salvadorian parents, my life-long support of the USMNT is quite complicated. The truth it is I grew up rooting against ‘El Tri’. In spite of this blasphemy, I still completely understood that Mexico’s 98 World Cup kit was the greatest national team shirt ever created. My list is rife with jersey’s that tell a story or incorporate a unique strand of cultural pride. Some subtle, some obvious — ABA Sport went the latter on this one. In many ways this kit was par for the 90s course. It was a big ol’ green shirt, that was accented by a massive collar which matched super-thick red and white sleeve cuffs. What elevated the strip was the Aztec calendar print which graced it’s entirety. It was an unprecedented nod to one of the most influential indigenous Mexican people ever. The Aztec were fierce warriors and even played a game similar to modern day soccer, which they called Tlachtli. Never has a kit more aptly represented the history, blood and ethos of its people. That is why it is the undisputed GOAT.