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Over the years, 79 nations have participated in the World Cup, and they’ve done so wearing hundreds of different kits — some more memorable than others. The Athletic’s Nick Miller has already reviewed all of the home and away kits that will feature in the 2022 World Cup, so let’s now take a look at the best and worst World Cup kits of all time.
1974 Netherlands home
Outside of their current kits, the Dutch have never had a bad look at a World Cup. This isn’t because they’ve been particularly daring, it’s because their identity is so singular. To most, the color orange, in sporting terms, evokes images of Johan Cruyff, or Dennis Bergkamp, or Ruud Gullit.
It’s nearly impossible to pick a strongest kit from a laundry list of standouts, but those worn by the Dutch at the 1974 World Cup are elegant and simple, perfectly complemented by what has to be one of the best crests in the game. The team famously almost won that tournament, thrashing Brazil, Argentina and East Germany along the way. Four years later they’d return and once again finish as runners-up, wearing kits that had barely changed from their ‘74 design.
The Netherlands have a non-World-Cup kit that’s just as iconic as the ‘74 look: the positively gorgeous shirt that they wore while winning the Euros in 1988. Again, it’s just an Adidas template, one also sported by the United States and many others during that era. In orange, though, it becomes iconic. —Pablo Maurer
1994 United States home
Some love this kit, others hate it. But everybody has an opinion on it, which is exactly what Adidas was going for when they manufactured it ahead of the ‘94 World Cup hosted by the U.S. Seeking to carve out their place in the global football community, the Americans announced their presence on the World Cup stage wearing a red, white and blue shirt that felt part cowboy and part Mountain Dew advertisement.
On first reveal, the U.S. players all hated this thing. But by the end of the tournament — after the U.S. had made a surprising run to the round of 16 and only narrowly lost to eventual champions Brazil — the jersey had won them over. It won fans over, too. For many American soccer fans of a certain age, the shirt evokes memories of that entire tournament, of denim-clad players wrapped in the American flag, of a sun-drenched Rose Bowl. Almost 30 years after its release, the denim kit remains the most iconic piece of design in U.S. Soccer history, and a reminder of just how bland modern uniforms have become. —Maurer
1986 Argentina home
There are few images more iconic in World Cup history than Diego Maradona slaloming past defenders in Argentina’s 1986 Le Coq Sportif home kit. It’s simply beautiful. Maradona’s entire look at those finals in Mexico — the hair, the short shorts, Puma Kings and the No. 10 on his back — were the perfect accessories for perhaps the best individual performance ever at a World Cup.
Over the years, Argentina have added different styles of trim and darker shades of blue and black to their kits, but it’s almost impossible for the Albiceleste to sport a bad looking home design. The ‘86 shirt couldn’t have been more straight-forward. It’s just three light blue vertical stripes over white. No highlights. No trim. The combination of a black Le Coq Sportif badge and Argentina’s crest were perfect elements on a flawless shirt. —Felipe Cardenas
2018 Nigeria home
Crafted by U.S.-based designer Matthew Wolff, Nigeria’s 2018 kits were like a shot of pure dopamine to football fans who’d long grown accustomed to modern, “clean” design. Even amongst what was a fairly strong field in 2018, they were the tournament standouts. They were accompanied by a supporting line that did not fall short of the expectations set by the home shirt — every single garment Nike made surrounding this 2018 Nigeria team was absolutely gorgeous. Bravo. —Maurer
1982 Spain home
Spain’s colors usually do all the talking. The country’s red and yellow kits (often with just a touch of blue) are as iconic as any in the world of football, and they hosted the 1982 World Cup in their greatest-ever version of them. The oversized collar spread wide, the V-neck, the three stripes. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were truly a golden age for kit design, exemplified perfectly by this Spain kit.
Many Spaniards might prefer the 2010 kit, for obvious enough reasons, but this is the true standout. —Maurer
1986 Brazil home
Aside from being one of the most iconic World Cups of all time, Mexico ‘86 was also a tournament that featured classic kits that will forever be remembered. Denmark’s Hummel look comes to mind. Even the Soviet Union’s timeless Adidas kit stood out for its simplicity. And Brazil’s 1986 home design remains one of the five-time world champions’ best to date.
Before Nike turned Brazil into a successful global brand, the Verde e Amarela wore a minimalist yellow Topper shirt with a V-neck and collar combo. The green trim, light blue shorts and white socks were remnants of the 1970 World Cup-winning side. Brazil’s 1986 team were not as heralded as the ‘82 team that lost to eventual champions Italy, but their defeat to France in the quarterfinals in Mexico was just as shocking a loss. —Cardenas
1990 West Germany home
This kit to end all kits? West Germany, 1990. pic.twitter.com/kimRRQd9dR
— Throwback Football (@ThrowbackFbl) September 22, 2018
The 1990 World Cup in Italy was another tournament replete with great looking uniforms, and champions West Germany’s Adidas home kit was a masterpiece. There was a very German-like efficiency to the shirt design. The black, red, and yellow motif just below the neckline was perfectly paired with the classic white foundation of every Germany home shirt.
Brand recognition is everything and this 1990 kit was as German as it gets. The design was intimidating and modern — two traditional characteristics of the four-time world champions. Unfortunately, the attempt to further modernize the design for USA ‘94 didn’t quite land. —Cardenas
1998 Mexico home
The Aztec kit brings back memories of Luiz “El Matador” Hernandez’s goal scream at the World Cup in France. I can’t believe that Mexico didn’t break the curse of the quinto partido in that jersey. Along with the 2022 World Cup away kit, this gem from ‘98 is one of El Tri’s best-ever home looks. The Aztec roots are obvious, but don’t overlook the collar, baggy fit and fine-tuned sleeve trim. Everything is working here. —Cardenas
1998 Croatia home and away
🇭🇷 The Croatia kits at the 1998 #WorldCup were absolute 🔥
🥳 Happy birthday, Davor Suker! pic.twitter.com/K0uKp03WdP
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) January 1, 2020
Much like the Dutch, Croatia are also a team who have picked a lane with kit design and stuck with it. Their shirts almost always incorporate the red-and-white checkerboard pattern present in the country’s coat of arms, often to great effect.
They have used the motif since the very beginning, debuting the checkerboard scheme in their first-ever international, a 2-1 victory over the United States in 1990. The jerseys look like the coat of arms (featured prominently on the country’s flag) for a reason: the guy who designed them, Miroslav Šutej, also designed the flag itself.
The Croatians made their World Cup debut in style, sporting this Lotto masterpiece while making an improbable third-place finish. Šuker, Prosinečki and others looked just as good in the country’s away kit, a blue shirt that featured the checkerboard pattern down the sides of the shirt. —Maurer
1990 Colombia home and away
Colombia’s long-time mascot, El Cole, is a super fan who dresses like an Andean condor and travels to watch his beloved national team. His yellow, blue and red face paint match the colorful wings that El Cole would flap enthusiastically from a stadium’s upper rafters.
The wings’ design was a close cousin to Colombia’s home and away looks at Italia ‘90, the tournament that brought El Cole to fame. Colombia’s yellow and red Adidas kits from 1990 are still treasured in the South American country. The cut of both shirts and the multi-colored sleeves remind Colombians of that Carlos Valderrama-led side that advanced from the group stage for the first time in the country’s history. The late Freddy Rincon’s last-gasp equalizer against West Germany has forever immortalized Colombia’s 1990 red away shirt. —Cardenas
Colombia – 1990 World Cup Home Kit. pic.twitter.com/22r1tSeFxf
— Greatest Football Kits Of All Time (@Gr8stFtblKits) September 11, 2022
2018 Japan home
Japan debuted their new badge at the 2018 World Cup on one of the tournament’s true standouts. In “samurai blue,” as Adidas called it, the front of the kit is dotted with a pattern meant to evoke traditional Japanese stitching. Of any jersey made in recent memory, it feels like maybe the most wearable as an everyday garment, with a design that’s simple yet unique, and in that lovely, lovely blue. —Maurer
1994 United States home
Denim should never be associated with soccer, no matter how memorable the USMNT’s 1994 home kit has become. As a concept, denim made sense at the time. Blue jeans, jean jackets and grunge music were staples of ‘90s American pop culture. Even though we all criticize Adidas for their mass-produced templated designs, the denim idea was more campy than it was bold.
To get out of the group and narrowly lose to the eventual champions was certainly an overachievement for a host nation that didn’t even have a first division professional league at the time. However, the denim-inspired shirt that the U.S. wore looked more like a costume than the look of a “serious footballing nation.” —Cardenas
1994 Nigeria away
It’s no surprise that the ‘94 World Cup featured so many garish designs. There was the aforementioned denim kit and there were a host of other misses. Spain took the field in a diamond-plastered atrocity that goes down as their worst-ever. Mexico’s 1994 away kit was also a total miss, as were a few others.
The Nigerian home kit, though, was truly awful. The green-and-white motif was meant to evoke the nation’s flag. Fair enough, but the checkerboard pattern on this thing is bad. Remember those bizarre images in the ‘90s that you’d put your nose on, then slowly back away, and a sublimated, 3-D image would appear? This is the wearable representation of those images. The only saving grace of the kit is the green shorts — in the run-up to the ‘94 World Cup, the Nigerians often paired this shirt with matching shorts. The resulting visual effect was brain-breaking.
It’s worth noting, though, that Nigeria’s other ‘94 kit is among the strongest of that tournament. —Maurer
Nigeria Home Shirt 1994https://t.co/8uIWqtCnTG #ad pic.twitter.com/wAVQXHlxNB
— Football Shirt Roulette (@roulette_shirt) November 14, 2022
1994 Russia away
Reebok was responsible for a few truly atrocious jerseys in the ‘90s, and this is one of them. It’s tough to pick between the two, but the away kit is the worst of the bunch. It’s a dark blue shirt that features asymmetrical checkerboard patches down both shoulders and a massive Reebok logo inexplicably plastered on the shirt’s collar. The collar itself is also a little odd, a square-cut opening not frequently seen on a football shirt. Even the lasting image of this shirt — Oleg Salenko bagging a record five goals in a single match — can’t save it from the trash heap. —Maurer
2022 Switzerland away
Swiss national team has presented its away jersey for the Qatar World Cup🇨🇭#Swiss #TheSquadra90 #Qatar2022 #Switzerland #PumaFootball #Puma pic.twitter.com/yf99pCOl7t
— TheSquadra90 (@TheSquadra90) August 29, 2022
We can all agree that Puma has had better World Cup kits than their 2022 offerings. The uninspired design that Uruguay, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco, Serbia, and Switzerland will wear in Qatar are simply forgettable. The Swiss’ white away shirt is probably the worst of the lot (although Uruguay are a close second).
Let’s start with what looks like a gigantic generic name tag on the front of the shirt. The Swiss red and white color combo accentuates this terribly simplistic design choice. There’s no sleeve or collar trim. It’s just a white V-neck top that looks more like a team-building T-shirt at an IT convention. —Cardenas
1994 and 2002 Brazil home
It should be remembered that Brazil’s last two World Cup titles were won wearing their two worst kits. Umbro outfitted Brazil in 1994. The design tone of the UK-based company is typically minimal, but the Brazil kit for USA ‘94 was uncharacteristically loud.
The federation badge was too big and the collar featured an unnecessary green and yellow trim. But the most gaudy element was the federation logo superimposed TWICE on the front of the shirt. Awful stuff. Bebeto’s rock-the-baby celebration deserved better.
In 2002, Brazil danced their way to the World Cup title. Their win over Germany in Yokohama, Japan was highlighted by Ronaldo Nazario’s brace, his ridiculous haircut and those terrible Nike kits. What a regrettable time that was for Nike. They created an easy template to mass produce and didn’t look back. The 2002 design looks like something you’d cut out of cardboard. —Cardenas
Almost too bizarre to include, Bolivia’s 1930 kit is arguably the worst ever worn at a World Cup. Actually, there’s probably no argument here. The South American squad showed up to the inaugural edition of the tournament sporting jerseys that spelled out the phrase “Viva Uruguay.” Look, it’s nice to be polite, but this is a little over the top. Wearing this atrocity, these try-hards got thumped 4-0 by Yugoslavia in the tournament’s opener.
Things didn’t get any better for the Bolivians. They arrived for their next match, against Brazil, and quickly learned that they wouldn’t even be able to wear the shirts, as Brazil were dressed in white. The Bolivians, who had packed light for the tournament, played that match in a light blue kit that was kindly loaned to them by the Brazilians. Brazil won the match 4-0, and the Bolivian national team wouldn’t qualify for another World Cup for 20 years.
When they finally did, in 1950, they met Uruguay in the tournament’s opener. They got crushed, 8-0. I guess Uruguay didn’t remember the kind gesture. —Maurer
Among the ugliest kits in World Cup history and rightly posterized by Diego Maradona in one of the most iconic soccer photographs ever taken. It’s a miracle Diego didn’t just keel over and vomit, looking at all of this nonsense. —Maurer
One of the most iconic World Cup pictures ever (1982 vs Belgium) pic.twitter.com/OIg5etAP5t
— Roger Pielke Jr. (@RogerPielkeJr) November 25, 2020
2022 United States home and away
There may be some recency bias at play here, but the kits that the U.S. will sport at this year’s World Cup are truly dreadful (and our readers agree). The fit of them, the look of them, all of it. Reading Nike’s explanation for these kits somehow makes them feel worse. The tiny patches of color on the home shirt? Those are meant to emulate the design language of other sports. The shoulder seams are supposed to make you think of a hockey jersey. The centered crest and the “swoosh” on the sleeve are supposed to make you think of a basketball jersey and an American football jersey, respectively. Quick question — what part of this jersey is supposed to make us think of a soccer jersey?
About the only thing that would extricate this kit from its status as the U.S.’s worst-ever jersey would be a deep run in the World Cup. We’ll see if that happens. —Maurer
(Top photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images)
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