22 Nov 2023

Next Goal WIns – the original documentary

From Widescreen, 11:45 am on 22 November 2023

This 2014 film is one the most uplifting and positive sports movies of all time, according to Dan Slevin.

Frame grab from the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins

Photo: DocPlay

A few days ago, the French national football team beat Gibraltar 14-nil in a European Championship qualifier.

Almost immediately calls went out from media and fans to somehow prevent such humiliations from ever happening again. France, some said, should have fielded a weakened team – the greatest player in Europe Kylian Mbappé scored a hat-trick – or the tournament should be rigged so that weaker teams are eliminated before they get to play the big boys.

Still from the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins

Photo: DocPlay

The plucky Gibraltarians – and those calling for the reduction of their participation in international football – should be forced to sit and watch the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins which follows the redemption of the American Samoa national team as they rise from the embarrassment of a world record 31-0 defeat away to Australia in an Oceania qualifier for the 2002 World Cup in 2001 to … well to let on would be pre-emptive of a great and satisfying viewing experience so we’ll leave it there.

Still from the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins

Photo: DocPlay

By the time qualification comes around for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil the local federation are at their wits end. A 2009 tsunami killed dozens of locals and wrecked their playing facilities. The young people of American Samoa are departing for US colleges (if they can) or the US military because their economic prospects are so poor.

The most lowly ranked team in world football has the odds stacked against them but they have one final card to play and they call on the US Soccer Federation to find them a coach. One person applies: Tomas Rongen, a Dutch-born veteran of the US under-20 side and several professional teams in America, he had grown up playing in Amsterdam where football was something of a religion.

Over a very short preparation period he attempts to improve the squad’s mental and physical toughness, their skills and match awareness. They teach him a few things themselves.

Frame grab from the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins

Photo: DocPlay

There are great stories throughout Next Goal Wins. Nicky Salapu, the traumatised goalkeeper from that Australian drubbing, comes out of retirement for one more shot at glory. Performing arts student Jaiyah Saelua becomes the first transgender (fa’fafine or third gender) player to take the field in an official FIFA match. And Ramin Ott leaves his wife, pregnant with their third child, in Arizona so he can represent his country once again.

Still from the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins

Nicky Salapu let in 31 goals in a word record defeat for American Samoa against Australia in 2001 but is determined to redeem himself and his team in 2011. Photo: DocPlay

Next Goal Wins is a terrific underdog story about how even the most hardened professional coach can learn a thing or two about playing for the love of the game. You’ll laugh. You’ll cheer. You might, like me, shed a tear.

Potentially it could make a great Hollywood story. If someone chooses to make it, I hope they don’t stuff it up.

Next Goal Wins is streaming on DocPlay in New Zealand and Australia and is rated M.

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