One of the many subplots during an engrossing international break was the debuts of PUMA's latest collection of kits for five of the continent's biggest nations.
It's the newest chapter in the sports manufacturer's colourful two-decade association with African football, and the latest designs are worthy additions to a back catalogue that includes some of the continent's most iconic strips.
Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire are the five federations whose new designs -- driven by Puma's Crafted From Culture concept -- were launched last week, ahead of the kits' inaugurations during a pulsating international week.
These designs, as PUMA's Head of Product line management Teamsport David Bremond tells ESPN, aim to bring authenticity and a sense of belonging to the African football fan, and they're the result of painstaking research, collaboration and creative design.
"The main purpose was to create authentic and personalised stories for each federation," Bremond began, "and we wanted to show the diversity of each of those countries and to make sure the fans are proud of wearing those kits.
"We want to give this sense of belonging to the people," he continued. "We know that football is much more than a sport, it's part of the culture of each of those countries.
"We wanted to make this authentic and to create bespoke stories and designs for the federations, and for the fans."
Vibrant kits for a memorable international break
The new designs generated a buzz on social media when they were released before the international break, with the likes of Arsenal new boy Thomas Partey (Ghana), Manchester United's Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast) and Wolves defender Romain Saiss (Morocco) some of the players chosen to model the new designs.
"It's been tremendous to see the concept 'Crafted From Culture' that we developed at the beginning of the process coming to life now, and it's been very well received by all the fans around the world and the African federations," continued Bremond, who admitted to some 'pre-match' nerves on the day when the designs were released to the public.
"It makes us very proud. We've seen [the kits] for the last 18 months now, but for the fans to see them, for the players to wear them, it's an amazing feeling."
For PUMA's team, the kits are only truly 'born' when the players take to the pitch, and this weekend fans got the opportunity to see the designs in action, with Ghana sporting their striking yellow away strip for their 5-1 demolition of Qatar, while the Ivorians wore their eye-catching grey and white design for their admirable 1-1 draw with Belgium in Brussels.
The ultimate goal, however, is to see these designs present on the grandest stages of all, and these newly released strips will be the kits worn at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations before a new collection is launched ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
"More than just a playing kit"
PUMA's reputation is built on being a lifestyle brand as well as a sportswear brand, and their aim is to launch kits that are both fashionable and feed into the culture of the African nations they represent.
Of course, certain sporting concerns must be met -- the home kits all target a more traditional consumer -- but the away kits are angled towards a more progressive fan, and particularly allow Puma to express a measure of creativity in their designs.
"A football kit is much more than just a playing kit, it's a lifestyle piece," Bremond continued. "Football influences fashion, and fashion influences football. A football jersey is more than just a football jersey, it's a lifestyle piece.
"We're looking at fashion trends, helped by our style department, and we saw, for example, for 2020 that patterns and all-over prints are very on trend, so that's how we mixed both the authenticity and the look together."
While the kits are a result of consultation and collaboration with the federations, ultimately they have been created with the end user in mind, and Bremond insists that they take into account fan feedback when finalising designs.
This may come as some encouragement to Ghanaian millennials, who crave a return to the yellow home kit as worn during the glorious early 90s, as part of the Black Stars' #BringBackTheLove initiative.
"We'll have a discussion with the federation for the next kit and if we should potentially change and have a yellow kit," Bremond assured Ghana fans, "but we have to discuss with the federation, it's not a decision we can take on our own."\
When describing the extensive process taken to arrive at the latest designs, it's clear that a sense of belonging is at the heart of both the journey and the end product.
The heartbeat of these new shirts is the concept 'Crafted From Culture', and from this starting point, federations are then consulted to find those authentic stories that can be incorporated into the new design and will resonate with fans.
The Morocco kits, for example, are inspired by the North African country's tradition of design and craftsmanship as present in their culture and local art; this tradition has been recontextualised in a geometric print graphic that covers the shirt.
The Senegal jersey draws on the country's own tradition of craftsmanship, specifically in the nation's textile-making culture, while the Ivorian design pays homage to the team's Elephants nickname.
These final designs are the result of many hidden hours of sampling, of filtering different ideas, and of discussing possible directions with designers and federations.
"All of these countries have such a rich history and culture," Bremond noted, "so we went into those and looked at what was the best representation of it.
"The design process is the most creative element, we start with many options and then we filter it down.
"When the first samples come in, it's that Christmas feeling, every time."
Unique kits and striking innovation
The Ghanaian designs have prompted a particularly vibrant response on social media, with fans taken by the unique pattern and colour scheme combination.
"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."
PUMA are also particularly excited about the Senegal home jersey, which boasts a complex design on the interior of the shirt.
"Senegal [is my favourite]," he revealed, betraying a genuine personal passion for the designs, "because of its history.
"It's a new technique that we use, to print from the inside, and it's something special and unique that we've created here.
"We also have regulations that come from FIFA, and because the design was so bold, it would have been impossible for us to have printed numbers, so we opted for this technique so that we could still communicate the story [of the shirt], create a lifestyle piece and follow the regulations."
Puma have already broken new ground with national team kits in the past, memorably with two Cameroon designs -- the sleeveless kit and the one-piece design that they wore at the 2004 AFCON, prompting a points deduction from FIFA -- and it's clear that the latest batch provide a clue as to their future plans for Africa's footballing fashion.
"We won't let you know what we're launching next season," Bremond teased.
"You'll have to be patient on this one, but this is the direction we're going in: how can we make football kits even more lifestyle and more fashionable."