In 2001, the tiny Pacific island of American Samoa suffered a world record 31-0 defeat at the hands of Australia, garnering headlines across the world as the worst soccer team on the planet. A decade after that humiliating night, they remain rooted to the bottom of FIFA's World rankings, having scored only twice in seventeen years. They have lost every competitive game they have ever played. Against this backdrop of serial underachievement, the team face the daunting prospect of a qualification campaign for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It would take a miracle-maker or a madman to turn the team's fortunes around - and in maverick Dutch coach Thomas Rongen the islanders somehow find both. As a loan appointment from the mighty U.S. Soccer Federation, with experience of playing alongside football greats like George Best and Johann Cruyff, Rongen is completely unprepared for what greets him on the island - in his own words it is "by far the lowest standard" of football he's ever ...Written by
Next Goal Wins
Performed by The Mighty Mocambos See more »
Perhaps a bit too obviously structured, but still cheering and entertaining
Next Goal Wins is a documentary about football/soccer, which came out in the year of the Brazilian World Cup, where the greatest footballing nations in the world come together for the biggest festival of the sport in the world; at the other end of that spectrum we have American Samoa – the team famous for the 31-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of Australia in 2001. This is the story of a tiny country with a national team of amateurs who work full- time jobs around their practice sessions as they prepare for the World Cup qualifiers against a backdrop of never having won a competitive match in their history, and only having scored twice in the last 17 years.
Like almost everyone else that talks about this film, I will struggle to write more than a sentence before I contrast this film with the FIFA World Cup because, although they are the same sport, they are at polar extremes to one another in terms of content. I'll also do what a lot of people have done, and reference the wonderful John Oliver bit on HBO where he tore FIFA's approach apart at a time where the corruption and lack of ability to do anything about it was also hurting how people felt about the body. Of course the World Cup was still a great success because people love the sport even if they universally hate the organizing body. This film strikes wonderfully at the nerve because it is about love of the sport, about trying despite the odds and, on a bigger scale, about people and a community.
The film does have a weakness in that it knows all this and as a result it perhaps plays towards it a bit too obviously at times; structuring itself in an effective manner sure, but I could have done with a few fewer moments of music coming in and people talking about courage and such. That said, it is hard not to do this because all the things are in place here – we have great characters, a unique setting and a wonderful sense of enjoyment (which the film brings out in this way). It helps to not know anything about the end point of the film (I didn't) but in the end it doesn't really matter because it is the ride and effort that is the fun part and even if you do not care about the sport, the film wisely picks its characters so that you care about specific people and thus the whole.
It is hard not to feel nervous as the team head towards another game – sometimes with the goal of just not losing too badly – and this increases as the new coach tries to pull them together. It is also hard not to be moved by the presence of transgender Jaiyah and the history made there – again, with all the headlines at the time reminding us that one of the next tournaments will be in Qatar, where Jaiyah would not find the welcome that she finds in her community, team and sport. It is hard not to be really moved at times because the film, although a bit too heavy at times, is generally very good at building all this together and putting it on the field.
It is a small story and it falls so totally outside of Brazil 2014 that it can more than serve as a refreshing documentary that has a great underdog story (there is no lower) and delivers it with strong characters and a sense of joy.
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