With the World Cup just around the corner, most eyes of the world will be focused on their TV screens to watch their favorite country compete in the world’s most popular sport. But to wet the spirit of soccer (or football if you’re outside the USA) fans the rousing Goal! makes for spirited entertainment as a precursor to the tournament. The story, which could be likened to most any sports film, offers an underdog, in this case Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) a talented player stuck in between his dream to play in the big leagues and his father’s (Tony Plana) dream to have their own father and son gardening business. As luck would have it, a former soccer star and scout Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane) spots Santiago during a pickup game in Los Angeles and recognizes his talent. Foy so thoroughly believes in the kid’s talent that he wakes up his old employer in England to promise that the kid would get a tryout if he came to England. Santiago saves up enough money to catch a flight only to have his dad snake the money for “their” business. Luckily Santiago has a generous grandma who doesn’t want to see his dream die. So he heads off to England, Newcastle to be exact, where he flops on his first tryout and his second, third, etc. But people believe in Santiago so much that eventually he makes the team. Toss in some light family conflict, some English clubbing scenes and a sweet English lass and the film offers a hearty kick.
Unlike so many sports films this one not only keeps a fast pace with the on-field action but with the conflicts as well. Several times this film could have gotten overly melodramatic and mushy but director Danny Cannon (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Judge Dredd) keeps the action flowing. Not that many soccer films have cluttered the cinemas (Victory, Bend it Like Beckham) but this one rises above the others like a floating corner kick. The film benefits from almost documentary like realism. Cannon got permission from FIFA to shoot footage in many of the stadiums and it shows. The locations not only add to the authenticity but the excitement as well. Even the big stadium scenes pack the audience right in with the boisterous crowd. Too many times sports films offer a canned look to them especially during big action moments but here they offer the real deal. It doesn’t hurt that soccer superstars such as Alan Shearer, David Beckham, and Raul Gonzalez slide in and out of the film. Even the drills and practices at the Newcastle practice pitch offer an air of realism. Cannon has cleverly set up this first part of a trilogy around the World Cup where he will gather more footage for the second and third installments. Cameron obviously has a love for soccer and film so the realism should only increase. Although this film lacks the sheer intensity of a Rocky or Karate Kid and offers a standard story line it’s still creates enough realism to reach its goal.