The greatest international shirts will always hold a special place in your heart. Cast your mind back to summers of years ago and the chances are that you'll associate them with particular shirts you saw, as much as particular players.
You see, football shirts aren't just to distinguish who's on your team, they've become ingrained in the fabric of football culture. Football has become fashion – but more importantly than that, and especially at international level, football shirts are about identity and pride.
So here they are – the most iconic, beautiful and downright bizarre football shirts ever in some cases.
25. Sweden, home, 1992
So retro it actually hurts a little bit. While Euro 92 feels like a somewhat forgotten tournament – England came bottom of their group, after all – the kits on show are some of the best ever seen at an international competition. Sweden’s was the pick of the bunch, as Thomas Brolin & Co. reached the semis with some gorgeous attacking football in an equally gorgeous kit.
The slightly angular, high neckline; the impossibly high and central Adidas logo and, of course, those three blue stripes crashing down across the shoulder. Impossibly cool.
24. Ghana, away, 2020
Considering plain, one-colour shirts with a bit of trim we’ve seen at international level over the years, Puma decided to shock the system in 2020 with a range of bright, exciting African kits. Inspired by Ghanaian architecture, art and the traditional colours of the nation, Puma’s Black Stars tops were the pick of the bunch, with many fans asking for the yellow shirt to be used as Ghana’s home choice, as it was in the 90s.
23. Cameroon, home, 2002
No sleeves, Cameroon? That’s insane! And so it proved – FIFA outlawed sleeveless shirts soon after the 2002 AFCON, with spokesman Keith Cooper saying, “They’re not shirts, they’re vests.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Those pesky Cameroonians then turned up to the 2004 AFCON in another kit soon to be outlawed: a onesie. “It goes against the laws of the game,” whined Sepp Blatter this time. “The rules are very clear, there is one shirt, one shorts and one socks.”
22. Republic of Ireland, home, 1990
The circular shamrock badge with orange border is perfection, and the V-neck collar gives a real smart appearance to this classic.
The Opel sponsor was brilliant, too.
21. Mexico, home, 1998
Poor Adidas. They’ve designed some beautiful shirts for Mexico in recent years, with 2018 seeing retro efforts with faded three stripes and the green being ditched altogether recently in favour of a stylish black and pink. Yet whatever they do, all fans want to see return, is ABA Sport’s Aztec pattern of 1998, depicting a sun god. You can’t win, lads. Give us the Aztecs back.
20. England women, away, 2019
This was the first time the England Women’s team got their own kits for a World Cup – and boy, didn’t they make the most of it?
That deep crimson, incorporating a classic English rose, was a level of experimentation we rarely see from the men’s designs, making this much more memorable than simply a ‘first Lionesses shirt’.
19. Peru, home, 1978
The sash. The sash! The sash.
There’s always an element of excitement when Peru qualifies for a World Cup, because you know you’ll get to see the immediately recognisable Peruvian white shirt with red sash.
And they know that keeping it simple works in their favour (the 2018 World Cup offer from Umbro deserves an honourable mention for that reason). That’s why the 1978 Peru World Cup shirt stands above the others: it is just right.
18. France, home, 1998
Classic with a twist: the homecoming shirt from ‘98 pays homage to the Euro-winning Platini-era shirt from 1984, with the unmistakable horizontal white and red bars across the front.
But Adidas flipped the blue collar to blue, and incorporated the French tricolore into the trim – including their own famous three stripes down the sleeve.
17. Nigeria, away, 1994
Nigeria is now synonymous with Nike. But back in 1994, when the Super Eagles had some of the brightest young stars on the planet, it was Adidas who made the jerseys. Their last away kit for the nation was a triumph: a white top with an all-over, intricate pattern of greens and blacks that was instantly recognisable and brilliantly unique.
16. Croatia, home, 1998
To be perfectly honest, we could have chosen any Croatia shirt from history. This one, though, from the 1998 World Cup, just shades it for us. The big collar, Lotto logo and badge in the middle of the columns of checkered white and red makes for a superb offering. Big Davor Suker firing the team to the semis didn’t hurt either. Style and nostalgia dovetailing with aplomb.
15. Wales, home, 2006
Perhaps a controversial choice, given that we haven’t gone for something brighter, bolder or associated with a golden era for the Welsh – but the thick, V-collared Wales shirt of 2006 holds a place in our heart. The Kappa logos were on the sleeves with the celtic-style font and enlarged badge front and centre on this one. The yellow and green version for the away was also lovely, too.
14. Japan, home, 2020
Reminiscent of ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’, Japan’s five-tone blue camo shirt was first revealed in 2019, looking ahead to an Olympic Games in Tokyo. So stunning was the design, that it actually put every Euro 2020 shirt in the shade. The five shades of blue are said to represent different hues of the sky and the touches of white and red just complete the look.
13. Italy, third, 2019
In 1954, Italy wore a ‘Maglia Verde’ green shirt while beating Argentina. It’s sometimes odd where kit manufacturers find their inspiration but in 2019, the Azzurri returned to that rich green to celebrate a new generation of talent. The ‘renaissance’ jerseys featured a stunning pattern that any of the nation’s fashion houses would be proud of with touches of gold, red and blue. Ciao, bella.
12. Spain, home, 1996
It wouldn’t look out of place on the back of a filly at the Grand National, but Spain’s shirt for Euro 96 is a footballing hall of famer. The gorgeous yellow and navy diamante columns running down the left hand side are as 90s as Pep Guardiola with hair. It helps, too, that England actually beat the team wearing this cranberry classic… on penalties, no less. Sheesh!
11. Scotland, home, 1996
The shirt you always knew should exist. When football came next door in 1996, the Scots suited up in traditional tartans – and though the tournament was disappointing (until Southgate missed that pen, of course), the Tartan Army looked excellent in this get-up.
10. USA, away, 1994
With the eyes of the globe on the United States in 1994, the nation chose to literally go stars and stripes for home and away. The first-choice effort essentially looked like a trippy Sunderland shirt – but lord was the away something special. The blue may look like denim but this is the jersey that made us believe that 'Murica could truly embrace soccer. Yee-haw.
9. England, away, 1966
Sometimes simple is beautiful. This has no frills and, well, no design really. If you know what you’re doing, something plan can really elevate itself.
Not a touch of extra colour poisons this shirt. Just a deep red championing the Three Lions badge, and visions of Nobby dancing come rushing to mind.
8. Argentina, home, 1986
The best ones are often the simple ones. Argentina kits have always been a firm favourite with neutrals – the sky blue and white stripes as easy on the eye as a spring sky. But 1986’s version was the best, as Diego Maradona dazzled in the shortest of shorts and a close fitting cotton shirt that (much like his teammates) was there to make him look good.
7. France, away, 2011
All that's missing from this shirt is a string of garlic around the neck of the player wearing it. Horizontal stripes have long been a staple of French tops, from the '98 home shirt to the bands of colour in the Euro 2004 home and World Cup 2006 away efforts – but this is our fave.
The visual cues are from the 'marinière', the French navy uniform of the 19th century which has become synonymous with the nation's culture. It was a bold move to do something that could look like parody... but wow did it pay off.
6. England, third, 1990
While England's Italia 90 home shirt was as no-nonsense as a Des Walker challenge, the acid house third kit – not even worn during the competition – is preferred by many. It may not evoke Gazza's tears or Platt's volley, but New Order paired it with bucket hats and a rapping John Barnes to make it the far wavier option. Put it this way, if you, Spud and Masher were hitting the Hacienda on a Sunday morning, it's this you'd pull off the coat hanger on your way out to the latter's tooting Ford Sierra.
5. Denmark, home, 1986
If Denmark's 1984 shirt was bold – white sleeves with red chevrons, groovy – the 1986 top blew it out the water. Hummel went with a half-and-half shirt, pairing a thin red-and-white striped panel against block red for something that looked genuinely unique (until Southampton were given the same design). The result has become iconic, synonymous with Michael Laudrup et al – but not everyone approved.
"Others would use such rags for kitchen drapes," Danish journalist Per Hoyer Hansen claimed at the time. What stylish kitchens.
4. Nigeria, home, 2018
The shirt that broke the internet. Social media went into meltdown over Nigeria’s pool party-worthy threads for the World Cup in Russia, as the African nation’s FA reported record sales and mass sellouts in stores across the globe. It didn’t matter if you were from Lagos or London, this was the shirt to own during that glorious summer.
3. Brazil, home, 1970
That pale golden yellow can only be worn in the sun, surely? There’s a reason watching Norwich isn’t really like watching Brazil, and it’s nothing to do with the likelihood of seeing Pele lazily play a ball out wide to Carlos Alberto.
Brazil are a team which promise endless summers and brilliant World Cups – and somehow the perfect 1970 shirt, with that gorgeous round collar, can evoke a feeling of nostalgia even in those too young to remember Jairzinho and co.
2. West Germany, home, 1988
It was only right, in a World Cup which undoubtedly holds the title for the most beautiful, that the snappiest dressers took home the title. West Germany were resplendent in their white Adidas shirts adorned with the jagged flag across the chests, as Jurgen Kilnsmann, Lothar Matthaus and Rudi Voller romped home to their third world title.
1. Netherlands, home, 1988
Marco van Basten’s Euro 88 final volley is one of the few goals worthy to be scored in a shirt this good looking. The side contained Rijkaard, Gullit, Koeman and Wouters who, under the Total Football philosophy of Rinus Michels, played beautiful football in a beautiful kit.
The perfect shade of orange, a gorgeous V-neck, the old-school Adidas logo, Dutch lion badge and, of course, the classic chevrons. The greatest of all time.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. He is a keen player of the Football Manager series and creates Twitter accounts for his Fantasy Premier League team every year, before losing interest in his team every September.
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