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Next Goal Wins
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10 from AL votes
Release: 23 April 2015 (Netherlands) /

Next Goal Wins

Genre: Documentary, Sport
Stars: , , , , , ,
Synopsis: 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

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Critic Reviews

When deciding on what to see last night, I sarcastically suggested 'Next Goal Wins' to my friend. The joke was that football movies are generally underwhelming (besides, she not into football); the first problem being that it's hard to capture the intensity and excitement of 90 minute games in five minute scenes, the second being that if anything too amazing happens it's not believable. If Manchester City's last minute Premiere League win in 2012 was fictional, nobody would buy it. I knew nothing about the film, and after seeing that it was a highly rated documentary (currently 8.7 on IMDb) it sounded like a rare treat; a good football movie. So Ten years after an embarrassing 31-0 loss to Australia, the American Samoan football team begin their world cup qualifying campaign with help from a new coach, the US based Dutchman Thomas Rongen. Rongen's the main focus of the film, a high level manager taking on the challenge of coaching 'The World's worst team', an eccentric Dutch rock star, berating and bonding with the team in equal measure. In his first ten minutes on screen he shouts down FIFA officials, insists on climbing to the highest point of the island for his country, and shows his sense of humour by responding to the team's intimidating Haka with 'Well done, well done, well done. I just sh*t myself in my pants, seriously'. Also featuring heavily is goalkeeper Nicki Palapu, who carries the scars of humiliation from the record-breaking Australian defeat, and Jiyah Saelau, the world's first World Cup qualification transgender player, as well as two American ringers (distant American Samoan relatives allowing them in the team) brought in by Rongen.

The film shows interviews with the players and their families, coaching sessions and of course football matches, but much of the joy comes from watching the players bond, and as Rongen is introduced to the rich, loving culture of American Samoa, so are we. It feels like the 'bonding sessions' - players swimming, hiking and going to church together - is a way of life for American Samoans, and there are some lovely moments of sheer unadulterated friendship. Jaiyah Saelua is one of the more interesting players, a Fa'afafine, (the third sex of Samoa, born male but with both male and female traits, an important part of Samoan culture, dedicated to family). Her gender is accepted by the players, and in a sport rife with prejudice - homophobia and racism are big issues in modern football - it's lovely to see the players sing, dance and eat with their sister at night, after training hard with her in the day. Besides, she's an extremely likable screen presence. The American Samoan culture is the most escapist element of the film, and the idea of one big island family is very appealing. The Island is gorgeous, and the cinematography captures it beautifully. The film often looks like an advert for a digital camera, the team playing keepie uppie before the setting sun, or back-flipping out of the ocean (water is everywhere; it rains for at least half the movie), always in slow motion. These moments of spectacle are some of the most enjoyable in the film, and the combination of sublime moments of beauty and the tension of watching a team you have come to know and love make for excellent pacing. Indeed one of the only criticisms is that you are left wanting more after some of the fastest 97 minutes of your cinema life, and you'll likely miss the players when the film ends.

The games themselves are exciting; the editing is cinematic, and although the football isn't high quality, you're so invested in the players that it's as tense, joyous and desperate as watching your own team, and I had to refrain from cheering a few times in a fairly empty screening. It's like watching your kid's team play, only with tasteful, suspenseful slow motion. The theme of family and togetherness is the most prominent. The team has stuck together, facing constant defeat without a goal in the last seventeen years, and the sacrifices they make for each other, putting in hours of training before and after every full day of work is astounding. Filmmakers have tried to tell their story before, but fear of ridicule has denied them access to the team. Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison's angle however is the impressively noble fact that they even try when the odds are stacked so highly against them, and that the love of the game and each other is what's really important.

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