Rating the FIFA World Cup Official Films (Part 2)

Hello and welcome to Part 2 of this exhaustive rundown of every FIFA World Cup official film ever. In Part one I covered the first seven films (from 1954’s German Giants to 1982’s G’Olé!) – you can see what I thought of them here.

Now I finally move on to the films of the World Cups which have taken place in my own lifetime. Starting off with…

Hero – Mexico 1986 🇲🇽

That man Diego

No prizes for guessing who that title refers to…

Has any player dominated a World Cup as much as Diego Maradona did in 1986? The last half hour of the film is almost totally dedicated to Argentina’s progress to the final and his role in it – most notably in that quarter final against England.

The film opens with eerie shots of a Mexico City that has been devastated by an earthquake – less than a year before the tournament was due to start – but swiftly moves on to highlight the Mexican team and their star player Hugo Sánchez in their victory over Belgium.

Maradona may be the undoubted star but early on there’s also plenty of focus on the great Danish Dynamite team, Platini inspiring France and Gary Lineker’s run to the Golden Boot.

But the editing is a little off-putting and confusing. At one stage it features France beating Italy in the second round before jumping back to them labouring past Canada in the group stage and then jumps forward to their quarter final with Brazil and semi final with West Germany. A lot of the teams who made it to Mexico (Northern Ireland being one of them) aren’t even mentioned either.

This time the narration comes from Michael Caine (sandwiched in his resumé somewhere between his Academy Award-winning performance in Hannah and her Sisters and his role in the laughable Jaws: The Revenge) who makes it clear that this is Maradona’s World Cup and everyone else is just there to make up the numbers. 

Like its protagonist, it has a few obvious flaws, but this is one I’d happily watch again.


Soccer Shootout – Italy 1990 🇮🇹

Gazza’s Tears – The moment which changed football?

For people of a certain age, Italia 90 is the definitive World Cup – being too young to remember it, I’m not one of those people. It is one I would have loved to have experienced though. Italy 

As for that title… I’m not sure whether it should gain or lose points for sounding like a bad early 90’s NES game – the Italian title Notti Magiche appears on screen at the start and would probably have been a better one to go with!

The backwards and forwards jumping which was such a feature of the 1986 film is present again. We start off following Cameroon through their opening win over Argentina and into the Roger Milla/Rene Higuita-inspired win over Colombia, before going back to highlight italy’s struggles in the group stage. On it goes, featuring Germany, England, Argentina and the Republic of Ireland, showing how they got to the quarter finals. Thankfully a lot of the early action is summarised in montages preventing it from becoming too much of a drag.

The latter-stages certainly don’t lack drama, you could easily fill a book with stories about the controversy around the Italy-Argentina semi-final in Naples (it was also fittingly a centrepiece in last year’s brilliant Diego Maradona documentary) while the England v West Germany semi is iconic for Gazza’s tears and for starting England’s national aversion to the penalty shootout, something which has lasted most of my life. After all that, it’s a shame the final was so awful. 

In terms of strange World Cup Film features, this one has lot of shots of an Italian photographer called Ferdinando Metsallani without ever interviewing him and for some reason they’ve intercut highlights of one of Argentina’s group games with footage of a recreation of calcio storico in Florence. No Italian Marco though!


Two Billion Hearts – USA 1994 🇺🇸

Mr Magical Kicks himself – after a not-so magical one

Surely Soccer Shoot-Out would have been a better title for this one, considering it was in the US and how the tournament ended…

But Two Billion Hearts it is and it’s a pretty good summary of the first World Cup I have a conscious memory of. I’m nearly sure my first World Cup game (or part of a game at least) came in 1994, but my memories have become muddled with all the highlights I’ve watched down the years. What is clear is that this is the first World Cup I have serious nostalgia for – right down to the implausibly baggy kits, especially the Adidas ones.

The film doesn’t start off in the best fashion, with interviews with random Americans many of whom ignorant about this “World Cup” which is taking place in their country and this strange foreign sport of ‘soccer’. I’m sure this kind of thing was really common on UK tv back in 1994 too. 

As we’ve become used to by now, it jumps back and forth through the tournament focusing firstly on Argentina before moving on to their conquerors, the brilliant Romanian side spearheaded by Hagi, showing their group games and then their elimination by Sweden. Holders Germany (newly-reunified) are up next but not for long as the spotlight is stolen by Hristo Stoichkov and Bulgaria. Then it’s Italy (starting with their defeat by the Republic of Ireland – ‘the ultimate ethnic game in New York’ according to narrator Liev Schreiber) and Brazil and the USA – featuring Alexi Lalas singing The Star Spangled Banner while strumming along on his guitar after which it alternates back and forth between the two finalists until that fateful penalty shootout in Pasadena.

Thanks buddy!

There are a couple of major omissions – there’s sadly no coverage of Maradona’s insane celebration after scoring against Greece although his departure in disgrace is appropriately covered, Oleg Salenko’s five goal haul against Cameroon in the game which also saw Roger Milla set a new record as the oldest scorer in World Cup history. Saeed Al-Owairan’s individual goal for Saudi Arabia against Belgium only features in the introductory montage. 

But despite too many vox-pops with people who clearly don’t know what football is, this is one I’d be happy to revisit.


La Coupe de la Gloire – France 1998 🇫🇷

France’s biggest fan

France 98 was my first proper World Cup so I have a natural tendency to look at it through rose-tinted glasses. 

The inconsistent editing of the tournament again makes a return – England and Argentina’s epic second round match appears 10 minutes in, before we’ve seen most of the group matches. Despite that, the iconic moments are all there Roberto Baggio’s redemption, Iran’s win over the USA, Croatia’s dismissal of an ageing German team, that Dennis Bergkamp goal against Argentina and of course, France and Brazil’s progress through to their showdown in St Denis.

It deals (briefly) with the Ronaldo controversy – he’s described as looking like a child who had been dragged to the opera and hints at the disruption this caused before going on to show France’s win, inspired by Zinedine Zidane’s first half double. 

Narration comes from the gruff Northern tones of Sean Bean, making this a rare entry on his CV where the erstwhile Ned Stark actor doesn’t die at the end. 

This one may be the winner for me, just put that down to my huge France 98 bias.


Seven Games From Glory – South Korea/Japan 2002 🇰🇷 🇯🇵

Ronaldo’s iconic, but still terrible, haircut

Ahh the 2002 World Cup aka the one that was in the middle of my GCSEs, which surprisingly isn’t mentioned at all during the film.

This is actually the longest of all the official films – clocking in at just short of two hours – like USA 94’s film it includes interviews with some of the players and managers involved and it exhaustively covers the group stage, in a similar manner to the earlier films. Although in this case it’s possibly justified as the Group Stage, which saw the shock eliminations of France, Argentina and Portugal, was easily the most interesting part of the tournament. With so many upsets early on, the latter stages saw a lot of dull games and a less-than-vintage Brazil and an extremely average Germany progressing o a forgettable final, which was ultimately settled by a goalkeeping error. 

But you’d need to have a heart of stone not to appreciate Ronaldo’s redemption after all that happened before the final in France four years earlier and his injury problems since then. 

It’s not ever going to go down as one of my favourite World Cups but the film is worth a watch and reminded me that it wasn’t all bad (that Senegal – Uruguay game was a cracker, even though I think we were stuck with France limply going out against Denmark) – even if I’m not quite over the number of scandalous decisions that went in South Korea’s favour.

British actor Robert Powell provides the narration – oddly the picture that accompanies his IMDB profile on Amazon’s X-Ray feature is of him in his most famous role, Jesus in the TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth


OK, here’s where things get a bit complicated… 

The Story of the 2006 FIFA World Cup – Germany 2006 🇩🇪

What might have been for Zizou…

First things first, if you search ‘2006 World Cup’ on Amazon Prime, two things come up. One is the extremely generically titled The Story of the 2006 FIFA World Cup: The Official Film of 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, the other is The FIFA 2006 World Cup Film: The Grand Finale.

Of these, it is the latter which appears to be the proper one, narrated by Pierce Brosnan, directed by Michael Apted, acclaimed for his documentary work on the …Up series, less acclaimed for his previous collaboration with Brosnan on The World Is Not Enough. Alas this version is not part of Prime Video, I would have to pay the princely sum of £2.49 to rent it, so I just watched the other one.

And it’s perfectly watchable – more an extended highlights package than an actual film, which isn’t really a bad thing. It avoids the erratic editing of some of the more recent films and just focuses on the tournament in chronological order. But does so in a way that isn’t tedious like some of FIFA’s early efforts.

 

Dave Beckett might not have played James Bond four times, but he’s a familiar voice of football on TV and as such is well capable of tying something like this together. 2006 is a World Cup I have plenty of fond memories of and as such I could easily watch this multiple times.

 

Match 64/The Journey – South Africa 2010 🇿🇦

Spain’s big moment

A slight disclaimer on this one – I’m not sure it’s supposed to be the actual official film. Wikipedia mentions a Blu-Ray-only 3D extravaganza which doesn’t exist on Amazon but what we do have are Match 64 and The Journey: Stories from the 2010 World Cup.

Let’s deal with Match 64 first. It doesn’t follow the traditional format of highlights, instead focusing on a behind the scenes look at the Final.

And it’s mostly very, very boring.

The actual action of the final doesn’t start until almost 50 minutes into the 1 hour 13 minutes running time so before that we have to sit through lots of interviews. Some with players, but mostly with random South Africans, the odious Sepp Blatter and final referee Howard Webb. Webb probably appears more than any footballer, ironic considering his mishandling of the match.

The Vuvuzela – Sound of Summer 2010

The Journey: Stories from the 2010 World Cup, is much better, although still not perfect. Narrated by John Hurt, it at least acknowledges the rest of the tournament – covering South Africa’s experience as hosts, France’s meltdown, the idiosyncratic management style of Diego Maradona, North Korea’s first appearance since 1966, but these are squeezed in between far too many interviews with non-football people – this time mostly with notable South Africans such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rugby World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar.

And the relentless drone of the vuvuzela follows you everywhere.

Of the two, I’d definitely recommend this one, though it won’t be troubling my top five.


Brasil! – Brazil 2014 🇧🇷

One man sums up the mood of an entire country

Inventive title, eh?

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand it is a good review of the tournament, but on the other hand it leans even more heavily into the ‘interviews with random local people’ strategy that the makers of The Journey had employed in 2010.

Some parts are excellent, I loved how during the Brazilian national anthem before the opening game they cut away from the players to show the crowd singing it unaccompanied instead, it features more fans from the competing nations and there are so many beautiful shots of Rio at sunset that I almost want to move there. And yeah, that semi-final, it captures a sense of how big a disaster that was to the whole nation – even if the frequent close-ups of tears dripping from people’s eyes make it a rough watch at times.

But on the whole, it focuses far too much on Brazil to the detriment of the other competing nations. In fairness, the summary does describe it as a look at the World Cup from the hosts’ perspective, But does anyone need to sit through extensive highlights of their 0-0 group stage draw with Mexico, apart from maybe Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican ‘keeper, who had the game of his life. Meanwhile many of the other teams only appear in brief highlights and plenty don’t appear at all.

After James Rodriguez scores his eventual Goal of the Tournament against Uruguay, the film cuts to a bunch of ecstatic Ecuador fans which is a weird mistake – I had to go back and check to make sure I wasn’t seeing things!

There’s also no English narration, which is is a bit of a disappointment.

Also showing up on Amazon is Road to Maracanã – The Official Film of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil – which simply appears to be a shortened version of this one but with even less football, and Match 64: The Maracanã, which I’m just avoiding based on the boredom the 2010 edition brought on.


Dreams – Russia 2018 🇷🇺

France are crowned in rainy Russia

After the confusion of the last three official films we are back to normal with the most recent World Cup. One film – thankfully mostly focusing on the action on the pitch.

The narration is back too – a welcome return – although Damian Lewis sounds pretty bored as he reads from his script.

It opens in a deeper way than any other official film – a quote from Crime and Punishment followed by some spectacular Russian scenery – mountains, forests, rivers and fans coming from all over the world to watch the tournament.

2018 is still a little bit recent for me to get too nostalgic about but watching this did trigger a lot of good memories, particularly of watching the matches outdoors in sunny southern Spain, particularly the epic 3-3 draw between them and Portugal.

Unforgivably though, the film omits the greatest moment of the tournament, how when chasing an equaliser against Spain, an Iran player decided that it was the perfect time to break out his party piece, the somersault throw-in. Which he wasn’t even able to execute properly. 

Pleasingly it adopts the linear structure of the 2006 film, mostly keeping things nice and simple. No following Russia all the way to the quarter final before jumping back to watch Germany go out in the group stage here. It’s an enjoyable look back at that tournament and well worth a look. 


And that’s that! I think you can see now why I broke this up into two parts…

So what have I learned from watching all of the official World Cup films? Mostly things I already knew I suppose. Presentation is so important – the early films suffer badly because editing techniques weren’t as advanced as they are now and there simply weren’t as many matches to fill the running time. That’s why we get extended highlights of almost every game and the occasional ‘comic’ subplot to pad things out.

Presenting the tournament in chronological order is very much the ‘safe’ option, but it’s often the best. Jumping back and forth to follow the stories of a few teams often makes it feel disjointed and means some of the smaller teams get overshadowed. 

Trying to be too clever isn’t always the best idea – there’s a formula for these things, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. 

People want to see the highlights and get a taste of the atmosphere in the host country. But the interest is weighted heavily towards the highlights. Don’t waste time showing us random local people when you could be showing us more football.

I think I need a break after going through all those films. Don’t worry though, despite the lack of (current) football, I still have plenty of ideas for new posts to keep things ticking over during the lockdown. 

2 comments

  1. Andrew awesome review! I was wondering where you got some of these films, heck all of them. I have been trying for too many years to watch them with English narration and for free without getting hacked or having a massive virus attack my computer. Do you have any way to get them or do that? If you do, please share. Note that I live in the Middle East at the moment.
    The only time I’ve watched some of them was when Bein Sports had a world cup day showing every single film and I was only able to watch 1982 and 1990.

    • Hi! Thanks for the positive feedback! I was able to watch all of them through Amazon Prime Video but I don’t know if they are available internationally. I have noticed a few of them on YouTube as well – the most recent ones are on the official FIFA channel!

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