This year’s World Cup isn’t just a battle for supremacy on the field. With money sloshing around the tournament in the form of sponsorships and brand endorsements, teams and manufacturers are out to sell as many shirts as possible. On that front, national pride and local consumers can only take you so far. You need that little extra pizzazz to make fans beyond your own borders sit up and take notice. Style is the great leveler. No one expects Nigeria to win in Moscow on July 15, but by now everyone knows that shirt. And the Super Eagles aren't the only ones to bring their fashion A-game to the World Cup.
Let Highsnobiety take you on a tour of football’s sartorial winners and losers with our rundown of the worst to best jerseys at Russia 2018.
If you turned up to a high school game in a shirt this bland, you’d be embarrassed, yet here comes Switzerland, arriving at the world’s biggest sporting event in something that looks like it was bought at a street market stand. The Swiss invariably qualify for tournaments and invariably produce a basic, bog-standard red shirt to go with their basic, bog-standard football. Switzerland, try something different when you inevitably qualify for Euro 2020. Please.
31. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia hasn’t featured at a World Cup since 2006, when one draw and two defeats was a much better outcome than the three defeats the Falcons suffered in 2002, including an 8-0 loss to Germany. All but three of the team’s players are drawn from the Saudi league, so it’s hard to see them doing much better this time around. All of this is tangential to the uniform, but it’s difficult to say anything in particular about this bore-fest.
On the park, workmanlike Australia prides itself on team camaraderie, egalitarianism, team cohesion, mucking in, mateship — you get the point. Nobody is bigger than the team. Nobody should stand out. Nice, then, of Nike to let the Socceroos carry that ethos into the World Cup with a design that is duller than an Outback chess tournament.
England hasn’t had decent uniform since the early ’90s and, despite just about every other nation going back to that time period for inspiration this year, Nike has instead opted to produce something that is the byword for generic. For a country that produces some of the world’s most enduring designers, the England uniform looks like it was designed by a committee with the express intent of offending nobody, with predictably tedious results.
Swedish design is all about simplicity and functionality, and this adidas effort certainly lives up to that billing. In previous tournaments, the simple yellow with blue trim worked because it was worn by legends such as Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimović. You don't get quite the same effect with Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen.
Morocco was late to reveal its uniform for Russia 2018 for fear of forgery. The North African nation is a hub for counterfeit branded clothing, so the Moroccan FA was worried that any early information about the shirt would lead to a flood of black-market fakes. Now, after the big reveal recently, we can confirm that the shirt wasn't worth the wait.
Denmark and long-term kit partner Hummel were responsible for some of international soccer’s most eye-striking uniforms in the ’80s, both at the 1984 European Championship and the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The Danes of that era played swashbuckling soccer led by Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjaer. This year’s effort, much like the current squad (Christian Eriksen aside), is a mere shadow of former greatness.
25. Costa Rica
The Ticos are one of two nations to travel to Russia in New Balance. NB might be miles behind the big three of Nike, Adidas, and PUMA when it comes to soccer, but its teams do have a knack of coming up trumps: Portuguese giants Portugal picked up a national title this year in New Balance, while Liverpool wore it in the Champions League final. This top isn’t much to write home about, however, so it doesn’t feature highly on our list.
German brand Uhlsport will be in Russia thanks to Tunisia. The design is fairly functional, basic, with some red detailing around the shoulders, but not one that will linger long in the memory once the tournament is over. You can insert your own joke about Tunisia’s chances on the park here.
Iran has form with bizarre jerseys — its Brazil 2014 effort had a roaring cheetah emblazoned across the front — but Team Melli has dropped the ball this year. adidas replaces Uhlsport for 2018, and despite the prestige of the Three Stripes, this is a fairly boilerplate effort. With Iran drawn to face Spain and Portugal in the group stage, the team’s presence in Russia is likely to fade from memory as quickly as this shirt.
The home shirt looks like Switzerland’s, which we’ve already established is terrible. But the Eagles lift themselves away from the bottom of the list by doing something interesting with the away shirt (flip through the gallery to see), which includes a Serbian flag motif vertically along the front. If you're wearing the away jersey without a player number on the front, the space left on the chest can look a little strange, but overall the away shirt saves the Balkan nation from bottom-ranking ignominy.
Nike’s Portugal shirt follows the same retro design trend followed by a lot of teams going to Russia, harking back to Portugal’s greatest ever triumph. Unfortunately, the Portuguese won the European Championship just two years ago, so this one is a bit samey. There are a few flashes of gold, a reference to the country’s 2016 victory in Paris, but other than that, there’s not much new here to get excited about.
El Tri is usually among the very best at the World Cup, but compared with the lightning bolts of 2014, this one seems a little underwhelming. Designer adidas has gone for a flash along the sides, as it has done on other shirts at Russia 2018, but next to the brand’s superb efforts for Colombia, Germany, and Spain, this one falls a little flat. The minimalist, two-ringed away jersey is much better.
The Lions of Teranga are already winning the nickname game, and the moniker is writ large across the team’s chests, with a lion’s head motif on an otherwise understated white shirt. The design loses points because the front-sided player numbers sit right in the middle of the lion’s face, which somewhat ruins the effect, and also because the shirt is made by PUMA, and no one likes a mixed metaphor.
Panama is one of two debutants at the World Cup and enters the tournament with no expectations. The first uniform looks like it was lifted from other jerseys at World Cup 2006, with a tapered collar and simplistic design that was sported by several teams in Germany. The red home shirt might not be anything special, but — in what is becoming a pattern — the away jersey is sharp, with a pattern that is apparently inspired by the Panama City skyline. If only designers would take more risks with teams’ primary shirts.
Iceland makes its World Cup debut wearing Italian sportswear brand Erreà. The design, while basic plain royal blue on the body, has an interesting white-fading-into-red-and-blue effect along the shoulders and sleeves. The Icelanders will tell you that the fade represents the geysers of Iceland. We’re not sure we buy that, but as first efforts go, it's not bad.
This one splits opinion. Plenty of people will call this a brave, possibly foolish move from adidas, but in the face of numerous conservative efforts at this year’s tournament (not least from adidas itself), this reference to Belgium’s 1984 European Championship shirt stands out at least. Some might say it carries a hint of grandad’s golf sweater, and the central badge placement is very mid-’90s, but kudos to Belgium for trying something unusual and getting away from 2014’s terrible crown-motif Burrda effort.
Poland is one of the darkest dark horses going into Russia 2018, and its uniform possesses an understated charm. Both the white home shirt and the red away jersey are split diagonally from left upper to right lower, directly through the Polish eagle badge. There isn’t anything particularly special aside from that, but there is enough to elevate the design from simplistic and dull to subtle and interesting.
At first glance, the shirt that Mo Salah and company will sport in Russia isn’t anything special. Close up, however, it boasts a nice checkerboard design and interesting adidas accents along the sides. Nuance isn't particularly well valued in football jersey design, but there’s a fair bit of it going on here if you look. The away shirt, however, looks like adidas simply switched the badges on Germany’s World Cup 2002 effort.
Can you argue with the Brazil uniform? The yellow, blue, and white of the Seleção is one of the most enduring images in sport. Even non-soccer fans know what the Brazil team looks like. Nike will tell you that this jersey is the same shade of yellow as the World Cup 1970 jersey — “a more vibrant samba gold,” specifically — and that the away uniform subtly references the 1958 World Cup-winning blue strip, but in truth, it doesn’t matter. There’s not a lot new here, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Uruguay’s uniform is the best of the bunch from PUMA, featuring a nice central sun motif that… (checks notes) is based on the Sol de Atlántida monument. A large, central motif worked for Mexico in 1998, with one of the greatest uniforms of all time, featuring the massive, teeth-bearing image of an Aztec. No teeth here so not quite as intimidating, but then bite-happy star striker Luis Suarez is always on hand to nibble on an opponent when necessary.
11. South Korea
Remember World Cup 2002, when everyone wore V-necks? South Korea certainly does, because it’s one of the few teams to include one for 2018. And that's understandable, as South Korea co-hosted the tournament that year and came fourth, its best ever finish. South Korea’s white away jersey is the standout of the country’s two uniforms in Russia, deploying a stylized red and blue national flag motif along the center.
Argentina has announced a first at this year’s World Cup, turning out in a black away jersey for the first time ever. And it's not bad, with the flashes that have become a staple of adidas’ World Cup 2018 range. Meanwhile, the home uniform is an all-time classic, from Kempes and Maradona to Batistuta, Crespo, and Messi — all the greats have worn the albiceleste stripes, so why change now?
There’s no arguing with that checkerboard. If Croatia turned out in anything else, we’d want our money back. The red and white checks are the enduring image of Croatia. This one has much wider checks than usual, with slightly fuzzy edges, offering a fresh spin on an established format. Check-mate.
Colombia’s home shirt is a direct lift from the country's 1990 shirt — you'd almost expect to see star midfielder James Rodriguez don a Carlos Valderrama wig to go with it. The away jersey delves more into Colombian culture, featuring a stripe along the left side that references the scarves worn by cafeteros, the native coffee pickers who give the national team its nickname, with a blue and luminous orange color scheme inspired by the Colombia shirts of the ’60s and ’70s.
France has looked as good as anyone at recent tournaments and 2018 will be no exception. The classy home jersey is blue, of course, and features the national motto “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” embossed on the collar button, with tricolour detailing on the back of the collar. Printed on the inside, meanwhile, is “Nos Differences Nous Unissent” (our differences unite us), a reference to the diverse ethnic makeup of Les Bleus. The away jersey is even better, appearing plain white from a distance, but showing flecks of red and blue when up close.
Host Russia has also got in on the retro act. Theirs is one of the best, too, harking back to the late ’80s, when the Soviet Union came second at the European Championship in 1988 and, uh, saw its Eastern European empire start to crumble. Perhaps putting a huge Cyrillic “CCCP” across the chest would have been a retro step too far, but this one is pretty good as it is. The away kit is better still: white with a dotted design that, we’re told, references Russian street architecture.
The famous red of Spain is a perennial favorite, and adidas has dug out a retro look from the era when Spain had great shirts but won diddly squat: the USA 1994 jersey. The diamond checkerboard effect along the right side is a winner, adding elements of yellow and purple to the predominant red. The use of purple has caused slight controversy back home, with some people angry that the color might be a reference to the 1931 flag of the Second Spanish Republic and as such is disrespectful to the country's monarchy. Politics aside, though, that purple pops.
Long-term absentee Peru is back and it's bringing its beautiful red sash. Along with Croatia and Brazil, Peru boasts one of the most instantly recognizable shirts in world football, so there was no need for Umbro to experiment or change anything ahead of the South Americans’ first World Cup appearance since 1982. The away jersey is similarly simple — in fact, it’s the same design reversed. Perfection.
Retro might be the big theme of World Cup 2018, but Japan laughs in the face of your ’80s- and ’90s-inspired styles. Its home shirt design is lifted from the most retro of all Japanese national teams, the Samurai, with a pattern inspired by Samurai armor and imprinted on those famous deep blue adidas jerseys. The away uniform goes in the opposite direction, its minimal off-white color and gray design elements on the left shoulder appearing to reference the modern, computerized image of the country.
The reigning champion has gone back to 1990 for its 2018 jerseys, picking out two of football’s most famous and beloved designs and bringing them right up to date. The home uniform borrows the three-bar chest motif of the 1990 shirt, but this time in understated grayscale rather than the colors of the German flag. The away jersey, meanwhile, recreates the shirt West Germany wore as it dumped England out of Italia 90 on penalties.
adidas has been selling retro versions of the two shirts in Germany in recent years, so it’s no surprise the design is officially back for World Cup 2018. This is a winner, just as those wearing it might be on July 15.
Did you expect anything else? If you’re reading this and don’t know anything about football, there’s still a decent chance you’ve seen this Nigeria uniform. The design generated crazy hype when it was revealed earlier in the year, and with good reason — it’s brash and simply unlike anything else out there. In a tournament bogged down with generic kit templates, Nigeria’s stands out a mile.
The basic design is inspired by different Super Eagles uniforms from past tournaments, with the patterns recalling the 1994 away jersey and the bright green reminiscent of 2002’s home effort. But Nike has taken those inspiration points, run with them, and created something very modern: lurid green with white chevrons on the body, white with black chevrons on the sleeves. The only downside will be seeing all manner of football hipsters wearing it all summer, but we can't blame anyone for copping this beauty.