The soccer film Victory puts a sporting twist on the propaganda during WWII in Nazi Germany.
When FIFA staged the first World Cup in 1930, the tournament only had 13 nations. The contemporary version, such as Qatar 2022, has 32. In 2026, that number balloons up to 40.
That first tournament, Uruguay, the host, emerged victorious as the first team to lift the Jules Rimet. The original gold-plated trophy featured the spread-eagled ‘Nike,’ the mythical Goddess representing ‘Victory’.
Italy’s back-to-back titles (1934 and 1938) occurred during The Great Depression. After the Azzurri won consecutive World Cups, Adolf Hitler envied the national power Prime Minister Benito Mussolini gained. This led the Führer to channel his energy toward the evolution of German soccer in order to use it as propaganda. Unfortunately for the Azzurri, Italy solidified its position as masters of soccer in the antebellum period before Hitler invaded Poland. Due to the cataclysm of World War II, the quadrennial World Cups of 1942 and 1946 were not staged.
Flash forward to the early 1980s. The history of Nazi-occupied France spawns a fictional screenplay produced into the sports film Victory (1981). Also titled Escape to Victory, it starred legendary soccer hero Edson Arantes do Nascimento, commonly known as Pelé. The Brazilian is the only three-time World Cup Champion with Brazil.
Victory took place in Nazi-occupied France before Germany surrendered in 1945 – the last vestige of Nazi xenophobia. Pelé stars as a prisoner of war recruited to a team of Allies who train to compete against the German national team. A Third Reich member who heads the P.O.W. camp organizes the match as a propaganda stunt for Nazi Germany.
However, in the film’s climax, as French Resistance and British Officers scheme for the Allies’ escape from the Third Reich, an epic match is played between the Allies v. Germany. Film director John Huston made a shrewdly observed sports film consisting of distinguished players who grace the screen in the climactic match.
Soccer legends in the film Victory
Pelé – Brazil
After suffering from a torn meniscus in ’66, Pelé contemplated retirement. However, he persevered triumphantly and won the World Cup in 1970. The trophy in Mexico is perhaps the highlight of his career.
When Mexico was eliminated in the Quarter Final of that tournament, El Tri fans rooted for the Seleção, metamorphosing Aztec stadium in Mexico City into the vibe of Maracanã, Pelé’s home stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Osvaldo Ardiles – Argentina
The midfielder won the World Cup with Argentina in 1978. Later, he managed over a dozen sides including Newcastle United and Tottenham. In the movie, he performs a ‘Rainbow Flick’ – a famous move where the ball flicks from the player’s heel over the top of a defender’s head.
Bobby Moore – England
The Captain of England won World Cup ’66. Bobby Moore is considered a legend of West Ham United, the club where he made 544 appearances spanning three decades. He was the first, and most recent, England captain to hold the original Jules Rimet trophy, presented by her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Paul Van Himst – Belgium
A legend of the Belgian national team who scored 233 goals in an illustrious career for his club Anderlecht.
Kazimierz Deyna – Poland
Deyna’s brilliant performance for Poland during World Cup ’74 piqued the interest of AC Milan and Real Madrid. However, communism halted his plans to play in western Europe. Eventually, Deyna arrived at Manchester City in the late 1970s. He scored 12 goals for City.
Mike Summerbee – England
The legendary English forward who scored 47 goals during his tenure for Man City performs in the fictional match against Germany.
Hallvar Thoreson – Norway
The former Captain of Norway, known for scoring the game-winning goal against England in a 1982 qualifier.
Co Prins – Netherlands
The Dutch star whose glory days came with Ajax, the club where he would score 33 goals in the early 1960s, joins the motley crew led by Pelé.
Werner Roth – USA
Finally, the American Hall-of-Famer, who acts as the Captain of the German team. A Yugoslavian-born, naturalized American whose family moved to the U.S. during his youth. Werner Roth is in the American Soccer Hall of Fame. He played for U.S.M.N.T. from 1972 to 1975 and for the New York Cosmos – a former professional club. Werner Roth shares much screen time in the final match, playing against co-star Pelé.
The Match: Germany vs. The Allies
The Allies face the Germans at Colombes Stadium in Paris – home of the 1938 World Cup Final. The soccer field is used as a metaphor for battle. In 1945, George Orwell’s essay, ‘The Sporting Spirit,’ offered an intriguing perspective on the lifeblood of sports.
“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”
In Victory, the armies on the pitch are the Germans versus the prisoners of war. When the showdown begins, the Germans dominate. Bad luck and harsh calls for the Allies lead to a 4-1 deficit at the intermission. During halftime, the Allies use their acerbic wit to escape from a tunnel below the pool in their locker room. The tunnel leads to the Seine River and eventually the English Channel.
However, the Allies refuse their surreptitious escape. Instead, the return to the match with an obstinate determination to defeat the Germans. They play with the propulsive rhythm of a roaring train in the 2nd half with desperate attack. Finally, The Allies defeat the Führer’s side in a gut-wrenching finale that inspires the doff of a hat. The Allies reverse the match into a showdown of fancy footwork and a last-second foul—leading to a penalty kick and the roar of the milling French crowd chanting, “Victoire!”
At last, the story is enlivened by the apercus of Sylvester Stallone – the American goalkeeper – and Michael Caine, the team captain, whose entire performances are imbued with brio.
Victory is available on various streaming platforms.
PHOTO: Getty Images
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