Some World Cup teams wear it better than others

Some World Cup teams are all beauty and elegance. Others are more workmanlike, almost to the point of being bland. And then there are those that are, no getting around it, tough to look at.

Style of play? Well, yes, that too.

David Beckham aside, the World Cup isn't a fashion show. When guys are representing their countries in front of billions of people all over the world, however, it helps if they look good doing it.

"First and foremost, you want to make a kit that represents that country well in terms of tradition and color," said Tim Yu of Nike, which designed the U.S. uniforms as well as those of Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia and South Korea.

"In terms of performance, we really do have the athletes in mind and work closely back with them to make sure we're addressing their needs."

The functionality folks will find plenty to love in South Africa.

Nike's jerseys are made entirely of polyester thread that's been recycled from plastic bottles, and are 13 percent lighter than previous uniforms. Puma used actual soil samples to create the color scheme for its "Unity Kit," a third uniform for the African nations that promotes awareness of plant and animal conservation as part of the U.N.'s International Year of Biodiversity.

And for sports fashionistas, there's enough to keep you entertained for the entire monthlong tournament, starting with Slovenia and its Charlie Brown jerseys.

That thick, jagged line on the front of both the home and away uniforms may represent the mountains of Slovenia. But when you're the smallest country in the tournament, have no big-name players and got stuck in the same group as England and the United States, you need to do something to stand out, not look like a blockhead (in ugly colors, to boot).

Australia isn't much better. The horizontal line (white on the home jersey, yellow on the away) running from one armpit to the other makes the Socceroos look as if they're wearing shrugs.

If Hamburglar ever talked, he'd be screaming copyright infringement over Ivory Coast's green-and-white striped away shirts. Broadcasters will love Denmark's red home jersey because it can double as a late-night test pattern.

Thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's slicked-back ducktail, Portugal's away jersey featuring a red-and-green highway down the center isn't the team's biggest fashion faux pas. England should consider stashing a few of its home whites away for 2016, when golf returns to the Olympics.

Greece's home and away shirts are the same, solid white (home) or blue (away), with thin lines of the opposite color running from the collar to the armpit and at a diagonal at the bottom. It's not bad, it's just ... boring. Which is fitting, considering that's the way the Greeks play.

As for France, there's just no way to explain, or excuse, that home jersey with the red and white ribs. Or wings. Or whatever they are.

Of course, it's not easy making all of these countries stand apart. Or finding a way to make them look different than they did four, eight or 12 years ago.

"It's always a challenge, because you need to look fresh and need to bring innovation," said Filip Trulsson, senior manager for international team sports at Puma, which designed the uniforms for defending champion Italy, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Switzerland.

"We're only human so, of course, internally, we have our own favorites. Overall, we're extremely pleased with the 2010 kits on the Africa side."

With good reason.

Kids who don't know Algeria from Albania are going to be clamoring for any one of the jerseys from Puma's African teams (except that Hamburglar one, of course) with their unique designs and bold, vibrant colors.

Ivory Coast's home jersey is sherbet orange, while Cameroon's away shirt is bright yellow with red stripes that appear to have been painted on with a brush. Algeria's away kit is sage green, a color underappreciated outside the Home Depot paint department.

Best of all, there's a surprise "hidden" on every home jersey. African teams are the clear winners in the nickname game, and designers screened an image of the team's nickname on the right shoulder.

Look closely, and you'll see an image of a Desert Fox (Algeria), a Black Star (Ghana), an Elephant (Ivory Coast) or an Indomitable Lion (Cameroon).

"These symbols carry a very strong meaning," Trulsson said.

Simple looks can stand out, too.

It doesn't get much more basic than the Dutch orange or Argentina's light blue and white stripes. Doesn't get much better, either. Spain's look is clean — solid shirts in red (home) or black (away), with stripes running down the sleeves and the federation crest above the heart — but powerful.

Brazil has worn essentially the same home uniform of cobalt blue shorts and canary yellow shirts with green trim for almost 50 years now, and it's still as cool as when Pele was wearing it.

"Brazil and Pele were at their peak when color TV just took off," said Alex Bellos, author of "Futebol, the Brazilian Way of Life." ''The iconography of that yellow from 1970, it's the first imprint of international sporting brilliance."

There are no style points in soccer, of course. But as the teams are making their last-minute preparations, remember the photos from South Africa will be looked at — and, in some cases, laughed at — for years to come.