32 Nations, Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Well, that was an interesting draw. I’ll save my opinions of what just happened to the US - suffice to say, us rooting for the States are either going to get some much-welcome retribution (Germany and Ghana have ended our last three World Cups), or get spanked pretty bad. And, we get to see CR7, glistening in the Amazonian heat of Manaus. At least there will be stories, right?

But I’m not here to talk about Group G. Let’s get right on in to the shirts for the first group of the 2014 World Cup: Group A.

Shall we?

Brazil

image Get it at Clean Sheet Co. »

This was the one team we could plan on before today; Brazil was slotted into the good old A1 slot back in 2007. Yet (and I’m not sure why) this shirt was one of the last designs I finished. Let’s start with a few things I wanted to get right about Brazil’s shirt.

  • Obviously, the host country sets the tone for a project like this. I wanted this design to be worthy; something that could stand on its own as the face of the 32 Nations project. (I couldn’t be prouder of the way it turned out.) - Brazil, playing at home, is canary yellow. That’s just a given. There’s no more iconic jersey in international sport.
  • Traditional Brazilian colors - bright green, rich blue and that canary yellow color - are reflected in the uniform, though in different proportions. The uniforms boast yellow, with blue and green accents; the Brazilian flag uses a ton of green (the entire field), some yellow, and some blue. White also plays an undersung role in bringing together both the flag and the jersey. It’s a very harmonious combination.
  • The flag’s blue sphere contains a beautiful array of stars - a representation of the southern sky, in fact - and I wanted to use that in the design. There are so many stars on the flag, it took a second to figure out how to do so.
  • Ditto the banner (“Ordem E Progresso”) - I wanted to reference it somehow, but it was’t immediately obvious how.

In the end, it all worked out. The Brazil Shirt is yellow, with green, blue and white serving as complements. The flag’s green is called back to serve as an accent, centering the design on the shirt and echoing the alignment of the flag (albeit just a half). The Clean Sheet crest takes on the role of the flag’s blue globe, proudly displaying a banner-style shape and an “O” (as in “Ordem”) fitting perfectly around the shape of the logo’s open center. The flag’s batallion of stars are reduced to just five: those that make up the Crux, or Southern Cross, the most important constellation in the southern hemisphere. One of those stars (Gamma Crucis, if you’re keeping score) slots serves as the Clean Sheet crest’s top star; the others support the crest and give the whole design a nice balance. A couple of cool things about the stars:

Author’s note: This is part of a recurring series on designing beautiful graphic identities for the 32 Nations in 2014 World Cup. When you’re done here, feel free to read on:

Introducing: 32 Nations
The Rules
Group A Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon Group B Spain, The Netherlands, Chile, Australia Group C Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan Group D Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy Group E Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras Group F Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria Group G Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA Group H Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic Epilogue
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All of the 32 Nations designs are available to order over at Clean Sheet Co., my apparel shop. We make shirts in batches, so pre-order now! All shirts ship later this winter.
Click here to see & order all 32 Nations shirts!

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Finally, if you’re interested in discussing this article, getting updates, etc., you can find me at @m_willis on Twitter, or leave your email at the very bottom of this page. Thanks for reading!

First, check out the way the Southern Cross is represented here, and on the Brazillian flag. If you compare this design to other national flags that include the constellation - and there are a bunch, interestingly - you’ll see that Brazil’s is flipped. In fact, the entire array of stars on the Brazillian flag is backwards. Why? Turns out while everybody else depicts the constellation as it appears in the sky, to an earthling on the ground, Brazil went a different way. To quote the national decree itself:

The constellations that appear on the National Flag match the appearance of the sky, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, at 8 hours and 30 minutes of the November 15, 1889… and should be considered as viewed by an observer outside the celestial sphere.

That’s right: Brazil’s view of the stars is from up above them, looking down onto Earth. It must be a nice view up there where Pelé and the crew hang out, playing futsal with quasars, when they’re not down here mixing with us mortals.

Second: there are five stars in the Southern Cross. There are five stars on the real Brazilian jersey, but they hang out just above the crest. Turns out including the Crux is a perfect salute to the five-time World Cup champions. No doubt they’re expecting to invalidate this design by the time the Cup is finished.

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So, that’s Brazil! I hope it kicked the project off right for you.

Croatia

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The checkerboard is a stoke of genius.

Croatia is an exceptional place, to be sure, but as the geopolitical makeup of central and eastern Europe changed in the last generation, an influx of new national identities has made it tough to keep up. As one of those new states, Croatia might have stood a risk of blending in, identity-wise, with its regional neighbors. Enter the red-and-white checkerboard jersey, and the chance of blending in with anything drops to zero.

There’s nothing new about Croatia’s use of the red-and-white cheque; it’s use on heraldic elements can be traced back more than 500 years. And yet the soccer team, looking for an identity in the early 1990s after independence, had options. It could have simply used solid blocks of red and white (with blue accents), as earlier pre-Yugoslavian teams did; they could have used the checkers sparingly, on sleeves or along corners. Instead, they went all in. The initial Croatia jersey was designed in the same year, and by the same graphic artist, who designed the modern Croatian coat of arms; “on-brand” identity work doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

The Croatia Shirt pays homage to the checkerboard design - using a few rows of cheques formed into a sash - and also to the solid red that those first Croatian teams (in the 1940s) employed. The crest is blue, the team’s preferred accent color, and the checkerboard is reprised within its inner circle.

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In red and white (and red and white and red and white), there will be no confusing, missing or ignoring Croatian spirit this summer.

Mexico

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If you can’t have fun, what’s the point? That’s the way I feel about this project - and keeping that principle in mind has led to designs like this one for Mexico. As I mentioned in the 32 Nations “Rules” piece, I’m not trying to replace national team jerseys (and quite obviously, this could never be one) - I’m trying to evoke the spirit and fun of pulling for a country during the Cup.

As I dove into the Mexico design, I realized that the “you gotta have fun” principle also applies directly to the Mexican national team itself. I mean, do those guys ever look like they’re having a good time? Playing care-free soccer? Enjoying themselves? From the persepctive of this US fan, it seems like Mexico is always playing with the weight of the world on its shoulders. Especially in this qualifying cycle, they looked off - mopey, scared, a little withdrawn. The body language was brutal. That may not be entirely the fault of those on the squad, either; media and fan behavior sets the tone and the expectations for the team, and right now, Mexico can do little right.

I’m not complaining, mind you; as a US soccer fan, trust me: I’ll always be able to find a way to enjoy a sub-par Mexican team. But this project is objective, from a rooting standpoint. I want to do right by each team. And the more I thought about Mexico, the more I concluded that, above all, I wanted to get some fun into their design, if only to encourage die-hard Mexican partisans to relax and enjoy the Cup experience.

Indeed, we ended up with something fun. There are a few levels to this design, and we might as well begin with the obvious: yes, the crest holds a mask! As I played with Mexican cultural symbols, several kept coming up over and over.

First, lucha libre, and the grand tradition of legendary Mexican wrestlers wearing masks during thier bouts. Far from a gimmick, a luchador’s mask is a sacred and serious part of his profession - so much so that some legendary wrestlers are burried in their masks. There is fun and frivolity in the idea of masked athletics, but there’s serious competitive fire, as well. Lucha libre, and the masks that are their trademark, are a giant part of Mexican cultural life.]

Second, an equally interesting Mexican tradition: decorating skulls, skeletons, and other elements of the afterlife. This artform comes to American attention primarily around annual Day of the Dead celebrations, but painted skeletons and so-called “sugar skulls” (calaveras de azúcar) - small, edible skulls used in religious ceremonies, have wide-ranging meaning in Mexican culture. Cranial artwork - whether on canvas or candy - is also quite beautiful. (The fact that it’s also a bit dark gives it an extra resonance.)

I spent time trying to use one, and then the other, in this design. Eventually I found a nice balance: a luchador’s mask with aspects of calavera style. This marriage made perfect sense, thematically and also in the way the design elements fit together. Some nice visual rhythms emerged: the mask’s left eye is the crest’s circle; it’s face is shown in relief, staring cautiously out from the shield. The lines of the crowning star, in Mexican gold, continue smoothly to the features of the mask below. Though both lucha masks and calavera skulls can get very intricate, I didn’t add much extra decoration; just enough (especially around the eyes) to convey a sense of theatrics. I really like the way it came out.

There are a few other elements I want to touch on. The Mexico Shirt is green, of course, as Mexico is possibly the most famous international team to don green. I liked a deeper, forest tone for Mexico; theirs isn’t bright or rich; in keeping with the Day of the Dead theme, it’s slightly dark. Black, used in the luchador/calavera mask design, is also not infrequently employed by the team as a jersey color, and it seemed to fit. White and red, the other two design colors used here, complete the Mexican green-white-red tricolor.

The final element to discuss about the design is the red vector crossing the shirt. This does a few things: first, it plays a practical role in balancing the design across the chest. But, as you might expect, there’s more. If you’ve ever watched the Mexican team line up for their national anthem before a match, you’ll see a particular gesture. Mexican nationals are taught from an early age to salute the flag during the anthem by placing their right hand, palm down, over their heart. It’s an inspiring, and uniquely Mexican, sight. This vector pays homage to that patriotic gesture, mirroring the placement and orientation of the arm and hand (tapering to a point at the outstretched fingers) during the anthem. And in a nice bit of harmony, the vector’s shape itself, an elongated triangle, echoes the team’s coloquial name: el Trí.

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I’ll venture a theory: for the Mexican team to succeed, they need to be pulling from their own national influences and styles, and having fun while they play. Likewise, Mexican fans would do well to relax and enjoy what’s wonderful about cheering for their country without angst or worry. A shirt like this is, to me, a way to bring back some authentic fun to the idea of cheering for Mexico. Come next June, the entire country might be in the market for just that.

Cameroon

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I love every design in this project. I can’t help but have favorites, though. Cameroon’s design is one of them. I was about half-way through the design process with Cameroon, and nothing was really working. I was clicking back and forth between the design in progress, and images of Cameroon’s actual jerseys - and the very cool Indomitable Lion crest they used. “I wish I could use a lion”, I remember thinking. And then, I heard Marty McFly’s voice in my head.

“If only I had more time… Wait, a minute, I got all the time I want! I got a time machine!”

I mean, I’m making up the rules here. If I want a lion, I can design a lion. So, I did.

One of the most important guidelines I’m keeping to as I create these designs is that the Clean Sheet crest - star and shield with interior circle - must be represented, in place, over the heart. The Cameroon design stretched me right to the practical limit of that rule. It took a few attempts to perfect a lion that worked with the outlines and contours of the crest, but I think I got there. The lion is outlined in a shadowy black - the mane and facial features framing the crest in negative space. I snuck in a trace amount of green (just a bit lighter than the shirt) to fill out the nose area, and to give the eyes slightly brighter puplis. I tried to create a lion that was calm, but serious and confident; Cameroon’s version is a bit more aggro, but that’s fine. Each is indomitable in its own way.

(It’s not like Cameroon isn’t interested in giving different lions a shot. There’s the roaring one on the current badge, and then a very subdued, almost sleepy looking one that Puma has woven into the fabric of the current jersey. It’s a little funny seeing those two completely different attitudes on the same shirt. But nothing will top the last lion on the list - the one Cameroon used to use as a crest. Nothing like an eye-rolling, bemused lion to really intimidate your opponents. “Oh, you’d like to dominate our team? Haven’t we been over this? Didn’t you read the sign? Indomitable. Get it through your head, pal.”)

Atop the lion, the crest’s star, split into two stripes -golden-yellow and red-orange- to line up with Cameroon’s flag and the single star that it contains. A faint sash runs underneath the crest to balance the design; beneath, the shirt itself is a shade of forest green. Like many African sides, Cameroon plays in combinations of green, red and yellow, but their green isn’t the bright green of Nigeria, or the chalky green of Côte d’Ivoire. It’s darker and deeper. Throw in the black design work, and the color just fits.

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And that’s the Cameroon Shirt, complete with custom-designed lion. Indomitable? You be the judge.

And there you have it, Group A. All shirts are available for pre-order over at Clean Sheet; find me on Twitter for comments, and I’ll see you back here on Monday for Group B. Update: Group B is live - go now!

32 Nations is a joint project by M.Willis and Clean Sheet Co. about designing expressive shirts for every single 2014 World Cup team. Check back Friday (after the draw) for Group A. Questions, comments, etc.? I’m on Twitter at @m_willis. You can check out Clean Sheet Co. at cleansheet.co. If you want to know a little more about me, check out the features at the top of the page, or check out my brief bio. Thanks for reading!

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