From Cameroon‘s sleeve-less Puma design between 2002 and 2004 to Nike’s iconic Nigeria kit released for the 2018 World Cup, Africa has been responsible for some of the most eye-catching football strips in the international arena.
There are a few gems set for show on the ‘catwalks’ of Cameroon at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, where a diverse array of manufacturers are serving up a variety of unique one-off styles and creative African-inspired kit compositions.
Here, ESPN has ranked every one of the 24 Nations Cup contenders’ couture contributions.
Red shirt, white collar, discreet design on the fabric…and that’s about it. We’re not entirely sure that Sudan’s decision to ditch Puma for Solo Sport was a wise one…
Irish brand Masita’s concept for Guinea, with Elephant tusks flanking the imprint of an elephant on the shirt’s chest, sounds exciting, but the kit ends up feeling a little too sparse when worn in a match context.
Debutants Gambia are still being served by long-term partners and German manufacturers Saller who, predictably, have stuck with a safe and solid route for the Scorpions’ Nations Cup kits.
There are bonus points for an asymmetrical design — the right shoulder boasts a white strip — but it’s not enough for this effort to stand out in a crowded field.
Umbro have unveiled some solid — if a bit dull — designs for Ethiopia. It remains to be seen whether the ‘ETHIOPIA’ text across the chest — which gives the kits a nice retro feel — will be retained for the tournament or replaced with player numbers, although either way, the effort appears staid compared to the team’s eye-catching training kits.
The red third strip does boast an excellent ‘Tibeb’ traditional textile pattern, described by Umbro as a ‘wagon wheel graphic’, and if one nation in the tournament ought to go down the ‘vintage’ route, it’s 1962 winners Ethiopia.
Malawi’s shirts have been produced by IsaDi — the International Sports Apparel Design Institute — a company owned by former Crystal Palace and Fulham midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi, who’s ensuring at least some Bafana Bafana representation at the Nations Cup…
The designs themselves have a lot going on, with a red background covered in black diagonal pinstripes, bisected by a black strip down the front, flanked by thin green lines.
We’re disappointed there aren’t more flames involved — Malawi does translate as ‘The Land where the sun is reflected in the water like fire’ after all — but there’s no shortage of ideas thrown into this one.
Unlike the Guinea effort, this busy design looks better on the players during a match than it does in photographs…mercifully.
19. Equatorial Guinea
Errea have thrown a lot into these Equatorial Guinea designs which, as a collection, appear to lack a common thread despite some innovation.
The red home kit paired with blue shorts and socks is reminiscent of Chile, while the blue away kit breaks the cardinal rule of football shirts by employing more than three colours in a single piece. Only Brazil can get away with that.
The pick of the bunch is the white third strip, where a unique mottled red wrap-around graphic will surely stand out if it gets an airing.
The jury’s still out on whether the new Tunisia kits sit on the right or wrong side of the subtle-dull divide. We appreciate the interpretation of Arabic calligraphy woven into the design by Kappa, and perhaps the largely understated strip is exactly what’s appropriate for a national team who aren’t traditionally known for their flair or flamboyance.
40 years on from Algeria’s shock victory over Germany at the 1982 World Cup, Adidas have surely missed a trick in not evoking those iconic kits — complete with Arabic script on the front spelling out al-Jazā’ir (Algeria) — with their 2022 designs.
The white home kit — released in late 2020 — keeps it simple…very simple…with the green Adidas stripes far more noticeable than a slightly-too-subtle pattern on the fabric.
The away kit is, as expected, green, and of all the shades that Adidas could have chosen for this version of their Condivo 21 template, these were perhaps not the most inspiring.
Points for originality from Moroccan designers AB Sport, with Mauritania going for a green kit, with a yellow wispy design down the middle, and red trim around the neck and under the arms.
It’s all a bit too wishy-washy to rank among the top shirts at the AFCON, although the white away kit does have a nice fresh feel.
These Puma designs, while elegant, feel like a bit of a step back for Senegal after the glory days of those mesmerising Romai designs that they wore at the 2017 Nations Cup and beyond.
The home kit boasts an all-round pattern design, with red-green-yellow peeping through the fabric after being printed on the inside of the garment. It was a design decision taken by Puma after FIFA restrictions prevented them from using such a bold design on the exterior of the shirt.
14. Cape Verde
The only team in the tournament to wear blue, the islanders will be hoping to intimidate a few opponents with the rather disgruntled-looking shark’s head that bisects the players’ midriff on each of their three strips. A strong effort by Austrian manufacturer Tempo Sport, who signed a multi-year contract with Cape Verde to replace Adidas.
Puma have opted to restore black to the latest Egyptian jerseys — launched in late 2020 — after the Pharaohs wore an all-red effort for their ill-fated campaign on home soil.
As with a few other Puma designs, the strong shoulder strip exudes stature, while a beautiful design – resembling hieroglyphics – also makes for a compelling addition to the AFCON 2021 catwalk.
This is certainly a worthy kit for Mohamed Salah and co. to wear as they go in search of that record-extending eighth continental crown.
In the minds of some, Cameroon should always and only wear Puma, and their Le Coq Sportif designs for the tournament on home soil are unlikely to see too many converts, despite their inimitably French style.
A more vibrant shade of green could have been chosen for the home kit — the one on the federation’s logo, perhaps? — and they’ve ditched the red and yellow chevron on the chest, shedding the Girondins de Bordeaux echo in the process.
The Indomitable Lion’s head covers the player’s heart on the home kit, with the FECAFOOT crest moving – unorthodoxly -over to the right, although it returns to the left-hand side for the delicious away kit.
A simplistic design with the Pan-African Cameroonian green-red-yellow on the left shoulder, this effort could be one of the stand-out designs of the Nations Cup.
11. Burkina Faso
The Stallions have turned to local kit firm Tovio, and have been rewarded with some of the more innovative designs of the tournament.
The home kit is a green effort with a stylised Burkinabe flag bleeding into the green of the kit on the throat, while the white ‘away’ kit boasts a jagged Burkina Faso flag right down the centre.
The racing stallions woven discreetly into the fabric are another notable design element which vindicate Burkina Faso’s decision to ditch Kappa for the Ouagadougou sportswear brand, who also produced attire for the country’s Olympians last year.
Guisport have delivered a series of loud efforts for Guinea-Bissau’s third AFCON campaign in a row. What they may lack in sophistication and elegance, they certainly compensate for in vitality and joyfulness, with the yellow design arguably the pick of the bunch.
Guinea-Bissau opted to partner with a local manufacturer for this sporting cycle, and they’ve been rewarded with designs that could prove to be among the neutral’s favourites. That diamond design on the red home kit doesn’t half give us flashbacks to Spain circa World Cup ’94 as well.
9. Sierra Leone
One of several examples of Umbro’s excessive outpouring of creativity. The blue home kit has a unique design where the more you look, the more you see within a kaleidoscope pattern that has psychedelic qualities and references traditional African fabric.
While the white away kit is a pure design with the Sierra Leone flag referenced in a green block under the collar and a blue block at the base of the shirt, the green third choice kit looks like Umbro poured too much blue ink out onto the page.
As a collection, there will be some detractors, although this lot has the potential to grown in appreciation.
A lovely, clean, stylish design from Puma, who have pairedMorocco’s rich dark red strip with a green granddad collar. The button at the top of the neck is a delightful little touch, as are the patterned shoulders.
Some of the more divisive efforts of the Nations Cup from Umbro, as they’ve gone for a paintbrush effect on Zim’s home kit — with the colours of the nation’s flag daubed from right to left.
It’s a similar story for the ‘thatched’ away kit, with yellow and white peaking through black and multiple shades of green to create something of a stained glass window effect. For chromatic fantasy, this lot can’t be beaten.
6. Ivory Coast
Another of the five Puma contributions to the Nations Cup, the Ivory Coast shirt is instantly recognisable due to their simple but striking orange and green colour scheme.
The green shoulder bands give this design strength and authority, although fans will be hoping that Eric Bailly and his fellow defenders demonstrate more of both qualities than they did at the Olympic Games.
The black and white away kit lacks the same vitality of the home jersey, and has the whiff of insipid training attire.
Another Puma design from the ‘Crafted From Culture’ range, and perhaps the most viral kits to be on show at this year’s tournament, Ghana’s home and away kits share a unique graphic that is inspired by Ghanaian culture and the vitality of local fabric.
The black star — the nation’s symbol and nickname — takes prominence on both the white home and the yellow away kit, and Puma’s Head of Product line management Teamsport David Bremond gushed about the designs when he spoke to ESPN in late 2020.
“We took inspiration from Ghanaian architecture, mixing this up with some very traditional colours as well,” Bremond explained. “[The kit is a] mix of traditional architecture, art and the colours of the country.”
Sure to be a darling among the neutrals, the eagle — talons bared — that jumps off the breastbone of the kit is a unique design choice, which evokes some memories of the leopard’s head worn by Zaire during their 1974 World Cup campaign.
The way the eagle’s wings morph into the kit’s green shoulders above the yellow and red bands of the Mali flag is also an inspired choice, and credit must go to French designers Airness for their successful design.
Sure to be a favourite among the street sellers and hawkers in West Africa for years to come, there’s also something of the modern American sports apparel about this quintessentially African design.
There’s a slight ‘second album’ syndrome from Nike with this design, as they’ve not quite stepped far enough away from their iconic 2018 design to avoid direct comparisons, which will — somewhat unfairly — not favour the newer effort particularly fondly.
As a standalone effort, their new Agbada robe-inspired design still deserves to be considered as one of the finest African kits as Nike continue to set the tone for Naija sports fashion.
The away kit, which reflects the fabric pattern of the home shirt in neck and sleeve trims, is another strong contribution.
A potential instant classic, Gabon’s third choice kit displays the nation’s flag – a green, yellow and blue tricolour – in a chainmail design, splashed diagonally across the shirt.
It has the potential to be one of the standout shirts of the tournament… if the Panthers get the opportunity to show it off.
The home shirt, with a roaring panther rising up across the strip, is another classy effort, and this this Selecao-esque contribution from Kappa is a nod to Gabon’s ‘Brazilians’ nickname.
Debutants Comoros may sit bottom of the pile as far as title-winning hopes are concerned, but we absolutely love this composition from Italians Macron, who have done excellent work with the likes of Udinese, Sampdoria, and Edinburgh Rugby in recent times.
While there are so many design elements to this shirt — not least the Comorian flag trimming the sleeves, or the flag’s crest-and-star design on the body of the kit — they’ve been assembled in such a way as to make a stylish and classy design, rather than a garish hotchpotch.
Two shades of green is a bold choice, while the gold neck — the colour choice symbolising ‘marriage and traditional clothing’ according to the manufacturers — simultaneously anchors and lifts the design.
Our favourite detail is the discreet ‘Chiromani’ motifs under the arm, which pay tribute to the women of the Comoros and the family unit.
The white and blue two-tone away and third choice kits are similarly resonant and timeless, although with Comoros drawn against Gabon, Morocco and Ghana in their opening group, don’t expect to see these beautiful designs in the knockout stages.
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