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May 30, 2014

Rating World Cup kits: Part 4 (8-1)

You've seen 32-25, 24-17 and 16-9 -- now here are the elite eight of World Cup kits!

-Shop for World Cup kits in the FC Store

8. England

England's home and away kits.

The Expert: After a long history of wearing contrasting shorts, England recently shifted gears, to monochromatic uniforms, at all 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro matches. At least for the home kit, the Three Lions will maintain that direction in 2014. The home shirt is a clean, sleek look with textured pinstripes. There are lots of stripes on the away shirt as well, but those might only see the field in the knockout rounds.

The Novice: I try to avoid describing uniforms as "classy" (it tends to be a synonym for "boring"). But hey, nobody has class like the English, right? And these tasteful designs are classy indeed.

7. France

France's away and home kits.

The Expert: When France was outfitted by Adidas, the company was known for contemporary designs ranging from eye candy to eyesore. Since Nike took over, Les Bleus' kits have been more on the artful side. The 2014 uniforms are a worthy update from the 2011 Nike set. Improvements include darker shades of blue and red for the home kit and a crest inspired by the 1958 World Cup, although the white collar is superfluous. The away shirt is once again derived from the French naval uniform. Nice set.

The Novice: I really wish the home shirt had a simple band collar, like the away shirt does -- that would justify this set's No. 3 ranking. As it stands, it's solid but not quite spectacular.

6. Brazil

Brazil's home and away kits.

The Expert: Brazil's home kit has an iconic look that transcends sport. But they've sometimes tinkered with the design, to the point that they were winning ugly. Thankfully, the 2014 home kit is a lovely design with a unique number font. The away and third kits, though, are uninspiring. The dot-patterned hoop stripes on the away shirt make the garment look faded, and though Nike says the third jersey is a dark shade of green, it might as well be black. There are throwback options that would have been more appealing.

The Novice: I'm not in love with that number font, but everything else here is aces -- even the keeper's shirt. One of the best looking sets in this year's World Cup, which is exactly what you'd expect from the host country.

5. Netherlands

Netherlands' home and away kits.

The Expert: The Netherlands' kits are based on various elements of their past. The home shirt modernizes the crest from the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals while using white trim introduced in the 1980s. The away shirt's pattern is inspired by the 1988 Euro championship uniform. Although promotional materials show the team wearing white shorts, the Dutch are more likely go all orange, as they did in their France friendly and the 2010 World Cup finals. Too bad about that, because they definitely look better with contrasting colors.

The Novice: There's a fine line between classic and plain, and I worry that the orange home shirt might be on the wrong side of it. It's a snappy number font on the back, however (here's the full numeral set). As for the away, not sure what I think of that crazy quilt layout of blue diamonds and chevrons. File this one under "Need to see it on the field."

4. Greece

Greece's away and home kits.

The Expert: Solid-color uniforms can look posh or garish -- it depends on the color. In Greece's case, the 2014 kits are a sublime improvement on the country's 2010 World Cup uniforms. And to dispel a mild myth: While the Greeks are known for wearing white-on-white since winning the 2004 Euro, they had also worn it in previous years, such as in the 1994 World Cup.

The Novice: This won't go down as history's most dynamic kit, but those little stripes on the collar and the sleeve cuffs add a subtle but effective bit of zing (and are mimicked on the away shirt). Meanwhile, when you're wearing a solid-white uniform, your tattoos really pop, eh?

3. South Korea

South Korea's home and away kits.

The Expert: South Korea's 2014 kits have been criticized for being bland, as fans clamoring for sizzle want something like the 1994, 2002 or 2010 kits. But one fan's sizzle is another fan's silliness, and the feeling here is that Korea's 2014 uniforms look clean and sharp. Well done.

The Novice: Sometimes little elements can go a long way, and that's definitely the case with the Korean shoulder stripes and collar design. I also like the asymmetrical colors on the away shirt, although it would be even better if the collar colors were reversed, so the sequence from shoulder to shoulder ran red-blue-red-blue.

2. Australia

Australia's away kit.

The Expert: At first glance, Australia's 2014 uniforms look like Brazil's 2013 Confederations Cup kit (not bad visual company), but the design actually hearkens back to the Socceroos' 1974 World Cup qualification. The elaborate crest conveys the uniqueness of the land Down Under, and the blue and gold away shirt looks regal. All in all, a smashing outfit. In a twist of fate, Australia looks better than Brazil in Brazil!

The Novice: Green and gold is the the world's best color combo, with blue and gold not far behind. The lone fly in the ointment? Those triangular panels at the base of the collars, which look too much like a third collar point flopping down.

1. Croatia

Croatia's away and home kits.

The Expert: Croatia has one of the most distinctive jerseys in the sports world. Love it or hate it -- and you can tell what I think based on the No. 1 ranking -- there's no mistaking the Croatians when they take the field. The home shirt, often compared to thoroughbred racing silks (and the Purina logo), is actually based on the country's coat of arms. The 2014 home shirt uses red sleeves for the first time since 1990. Some fans like this format, while others prefer the full checkerboard treatment. The away kit continues a Croatian tradition of innovative designs.

The Novice: Put me in the "Love it" category. You can make all the chess and checkers jokes you want, but checkerboard squares are a powerful graphic pattern, and I love how the Croations have managed to use that as both a primary design motif (on the home) and a side trim (on the away). Checkmate!

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