Next Goal Wins  (2014)    77/100

Rating :   77/100                                                                       97 Min        15

Documentary following the exploits of the American Samoa national football team, against the beautiful backdrop of their capital Pago Pago, as they attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. America Samoa is a part of the Samoan archipelago which also includes the independent nation of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean and, unsurprisingly given its name, it is one of the foreign territories that are a part of the United States, much like Guam and the American Virgin Islands. With a population of just around 56, 000 we learn the nation’s team are currently residing at the bottom of the FIFA international rankings, and they also have the dubious honour of having suffered the greatest ever defeat in the history of international football – 31 nil by Australia in 2001.

Action, it seems, must be taken, and so the powers that be hire Dutch coach Thomas Rongen to try and lift the team from the doldrums, but will his expertise be enough and how will he react to a different culture at the other side of the world?

The film is divided in good measure between following the action in the games and following the reaction from the players and the coach, and we feel like we are getting to know a few of them quite well, which is of course necessary for the human element to work. We learn, for instance, that Rongen’s daughter tragically died in a car accident and that he and his wife are able to find a degree of spiritual healing in a sense from the island community, the same community that fully embraces Jaiyah Saelua, the transgender player on the team, who also proves gutsy and, ahem, ballsy enough to become one of the team’s greatest assets.

It’s a really wonderful film that perfectly sums up just what sport can mean to people and how much it can move everyone involved with it, from the players and their families to the supporters they are representing. There were more than one or two people sniffling in the audience before the end. Highly recommended.

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