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New 30 for 30: Soccer Stories series kicks off in April in countdown to 2014 FIFA World Cup

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PASADENA, Calif. — In the buildup to, and presentation of, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, ESPN will employ not only legendary players as analysts, but world-renowned filmmakers, too.

Saturday at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour, ESPN announced the addition of two studio analysts for its event coverage: 2002 FIFA World Cup champion Gilberto Silva from Brazil and Dutch footballer Ruud van Nistelrooy. The World Cup begins play June 12.

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ESPN Films also announced a new documentary series called 30 for 30: Soccer Stories. The first of eight installments will debut April 22. The series’ stories come from across the international soccer landscape as seen through the eyes of celebrated directors, including Brett Ratner (whose previous films include “X Men: The Last Stand”) and Alex Gibney (whose previous films include “Taxi to the Dark Side”).

Front Row caught up with ESPN Films Director of Development Libby Geist after her panel with the directors.

What challenges has this project presented?
You’d think that searching for soccer specific topics would be easier than the typical “we want the best sports stories” 30 for 30 development, but it’s been just as hard, if not harder. We wanted to represent different eras, different parts of the world, and use international directors when possible so it was a careful balance. Also, there’s a unique intensity about soccer and soccer fans that make for incredible cultural stories, so sifting through soccer’s history and choosing just eight topics wasn’t a simple task.

What topics will directors Gibney and Ratner be covering in their respective films?
Alex Gibney and his co-director Trevor Birney are doing a film [Ceasefire Massacre] about the ’94 World Cup game at Giants Stadium between Italy and Ireland, when Ireland was nearing what was thought to be the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The excitement surrounding Ireland’s win was squelched when news came out of a mass shooting at a local pub filled with fans watching the game in a small Northern Irish village. The juxtaposition of the joy at Giants Stadium to the massacre in Ireland is haunting and showed that the conflict was far from over.

Brett Ratner’s film [Mysteries of The Jules Rimet Trophy] focuses on just one of the many wild stories surrounding the Jules Rimet Trophy. He chose one of the earliest, about Hitler’s obsession with the trophy and a Nazi plan to steal it from Italy during World War II. A mild-mannered Italian soccer official, Ottorino Barassi, went to great lengths to hide and protect it and risked his life to keep the Rimet trophy in Italy’s hands.

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