Starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow, it also featured several professional footballers such as Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst, Mike Summerbee, Hallvar Thoresen, Werner Roth and, most famously, Pelé, as well as several Ipswich Town players.
John Colby (Michael Caine) is a former professional footballer, now prisoner of war in a German camp, who gets roped in by the German camp commander (Max von Sydow) to have a team of his choosing play an exhibition match against a German team. While Colby begins to get his team ready for the game (which includes several POWs from other camps, and Antillan Luis Fernandez (Pelé)), Canadian Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) is trying to escape the camp, and gets into the team to get advantage of the relaxed security around the team. When it turns out that the game will be played in Paris, the French Resistance agrees to help the team escape at halftime, but when the choice becomes between escaping and winning the match, things change a lot.
This film contains examples of:
- The Ace: Fernandez, whose Establishing Character Moment is bouncing the ball on his head for a while, is the one who scores the final goal with an overhead kick. Even the Germans applaud.
- A Father to His Men: Colby insists that enlisted men be allowed to join his team (and receive the special privileges granted to the prisoners participating) and is reluctant to get involved in an escape attempt due to being afraid that his players might be killed.
- Master Forger: When Robert Hatch requires documents for his escape attempt, he goes to a fellow POW identified only as "The Forger". He not only has made his own camera to take pictures for the documents, but he's also gotten samples for all kinds of official documents (like government death declarations — good if your cover for moving around is going to a funeral) and has hand-carved a number of fake stamps. He even jokes to Hatch that the Germans are pretty inconsiderate with their habit of constantly changing document designs to try to stop people like him.
- Nothing but Skin and Bones: The Eastern European players are starved and weak from poor treatment.
- Obfuscating Disability: Subverted because to get Hatch out of solitary they claim the previous goalkeeper has broken his arm, then break it for real.
- Officer and a Gentleman: And a football player (or former football player). There's a decent amount of respect between German officers and Allied officers who played football, doubly so if they met each other before.
- Separated by a Common Language: Soccer not being popular in North America at the time, Hatch misunderstands what a "tackle" is in soccer. However, because of his experience using his hands in Canadian Football, he is the natural choice to be the goalkeeper.
- Tokyo Rose: A "Lord Haw-Haw" type is shown commentating the soccer match."Listen to that crowd cheer!" (plays record of cheering crowd)
- Unnecessary Roughness:
- the Germans tend to use quite brutal moves against their Allied opponents. Luis Fernandez in particular gets a lot of this. The referee, who's biased towards the Germans, ignores this.
- Earlier in the movie, Hatch is criticized by Colby for tackling one of the camp mates in the American football way.
- Those Two Guys: English officers Waldron and Rose, in a Stiff Upper Lip manner.
- Underdogs Never Lose: Played with. The final goal ties the game at 4-4, despite the referee's obvious bias towards the German team. Given that the Allied team had a perfectly good goal disallowed earlier in the game, though, they could claim a moral victory.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Was based on a Real Life incident in Ukraine with a much more depressing Downer Ending. The occupying Nazis forced the Ukrainian team to play several matches against them as a publicity stunt. When the home team Curb Stomped them, the Nazis had them tortured, shipped off to work camps, and executed.
- Worthy Opponent: the German camp commander regards most of the POW team (especially Fernandez) as this when they start showing their worth. In particular, he stands and applauds Fernandez's overhead kick, even though his recognition of it means the referee can't use an excuse to disallow the goal.