New on SocTakes: World Cup of Flags: Group D


Image credit: Nicolas Raymond (Creative Commons license)

While we at Soc Takes were discussing our World Cup content, I came up with a few different ideas I thought might be interesting: a piece comparing the two common international ranking systems and what the differences are, a piece looking at what leagues and teams are most represented among World Cup rosters, and this.

So, I crowdsourced.

What if, instead of soccer, the results of the World Cup were decided by pitting the flags of those respective nations against each other? Who would win?

This is a fundamentally nonsensical idea, which is why I’m writing it.

Anyway, as the resident vexillologist and vexillographer here at Soc Takes, I’ll actually be running through probably every World Cup group, analyzing the flags and showing what the results for each group would be in this hypothetical Flag World Cup.

To start, we need the basic criteria held by various vexillological organizations for what makes a good flag:

  1. Keep the design simple, so that it can easily be drawn from memory.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism, where each component has some purpose.
  3. Limit yourself to 2 to 3 basic colors.
  4. Absolutely no lettering, seals, or crests of any kind.
  5. Be distinctive and unique, or be deliberately related and similar.

We’ll be using those five rules to judge the four flags in each group, and determining the result for the group stage matches. Rather than just rank the flags first through fourth and pick the top two, I think it’ll be more fun to “simulate” a match played between the two flags. Do note that even though those are the primary rules I’ll be using, it is possible for a flag to break one or more of those rules and still be a great flag. There is a bit of subjectivity here, but I’ll do my best to stay as objective as possible.

And with that, let’s begin the Group D group stage matches.

Argentina vs. Iceland

Flag of Iceland

Iceland enters the tournament with a very strong flag. The design is simple, known among flag nerds as a “Nordic Cross,” and represents the Christian influence in the country. All these Nordic Cross flags are ultimately derived from the Danish flag, in near-continuous use since at least the 14th century. The three colors all have meaning, with the blue representing the blue mountains, the white representing snow and ice, and the red for the island’s volcanoes. Denmark, at various points in history, conquered much of the Nordic region, with the flags in the area showing that relationship with Denmark. Here we have a flag that is both distinct and recognizable, yet also closely related with its neighbors. The colors, meanings and proportions are all rigidly defined by Icelandic law. In short, Iceland has an excellent flag.

Flag of Argentina

Argentina’s flag dates back to 1812, although the current version wasn’t adopted until 1861 and the standards weren’t fully defined until 2012. The original meaning and shade of the blue color is disputed, given the flag’s origins during a revolutionary period in Argentina’s history. The common belief is that they represent the sky, clouds and sun, but historians claim they’re derived from the House of Bourbon. This lack of official standardization and meaning is a point against Argentina. The flag also lacks a set ratio of height to width, with two officially defined and several others in use. Finally, the flag incorporates the Sun of May in the center, a highly intricate design featuring two different colors and both straight and wavy rays. This is enough for me to classify this as a seal, especially given its usage in Argentina as one.

Putting these two flags head to head, Iceland comes away with the win.

Croatia vs. Nigeria

Flag of Croatia

Croatia’s flag is the youngest in Group D, having been adopted on December 21, 1990, not long before independence was declared from Yugoslavia. The tricolor pattern of red, white, and blue has been used in the Slavic world for over a century, including Croatia’s time as a constituent republic in Yugoslavia. In fact, five of the Yugoslav republics as well as the nation itself used similar designs for much of the 20th century. While the checkerboard pattern does have some association with the fascist Ustaše period, the design has been used as part of Croatian coats of arms since at least 1495. The flag loses points for the incorporation of not one but five coats of arms above the checkerboard shield, which represent the five component regions of modern Croatia. While the symbolism is meaningful, it adds incredibly tiny, intricate designs as well as three additional colors. It’s not a bad flag, but it gets a bit messy there.

Flag of Nigeria

Nigeria’s flag has been unchanged since its adoption on October 1, 1960, the date of Nigeria’s independence from the United Kingdom. The green stripes represent the natural wealth found in the country, while the white stripe represents peace. This flag is the only national flag using only green and white, leaving it immediately recognizable. The colors and proportions have been standardized in Nigerian law. This is another very strong flag. Simple, yet distinct.

Match 2 ends with an easy win for Nigeria.

Argentina vs. Croatia

Match 3 is the closest fight we’ve seen in Group D. Both flags have a lot of history, but both also break some of the rules. Croatia gets the advantage in terms of standardization and specifications, while Argentina has the advantage in that the crest used is a simpler design. With that all said, this match ends in a draw.

Nigeria vs. Iceland

While Match 3 was pretty strong, Match 4 is even closer. These two flags are both very, very good, and follow every single principle of flag design to the letter. While subjectively I prefer the flag of Iceland, that’s not enough for them to win this one. This is a hard fought match ending in a draw.

Nigeria vs. Argentina

As with Croatia, Nigeria has an early advantage over Argentina from the beginning. The lack of a seal, the distinctive and unique design, and the clearly defined meanings mean three more points to Nigeria.

Iceland vs. Croatia

In a battle between red, white and blue banners, Iceland wins on simplicity. The two flags are both heavily tied to the surrounding regions, and Croatia puts up a tougher fight than Argentina, but I can’t get past the five crests incorporated above the checkerboard shield. And given that the flag with just the shield was literally used by a Nazi puppet regime, there is approximately a zero percent chance that the crests are removed. Iceland wins again.

Group D Standings:

  1. Iceland, 7 points
  2. Nigeria, 7 points
  3. Argentina, 1 point
  4. Croatia, 1 point

Iceland moves on to play the runner-up in Group C, while Nigeria will face the winner of Group C.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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