Clint Eastwood directed this film, based on the book Playing the Enemy: Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, written by John Carlin. Morgan Freeman, the lead actor, was attached to the project even before Eastwood, and encouraged Eastwood to take on the project as the leader. About the origin of the film's development, Eastwood said, "I had read several things on Nelson Mandela, but the 1995 World Cup and how he used it for reconciliation was new to me. I called back and said, ‘I like this. Why don’t I run with it for a while.’ I went to Warner Bros. and they fell in love with it as well.”
Filming took place on location. The final game was shot at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, where the actual victory took place. Morgan Freeman had met Nelson Mandela several times before working on the film, so he felt confident inhabiting the man in the film. Matt Damon trained extensively with the actual Chester Williams, a player on the 1995 team.
Eastwood wanted to make the film as accurate as possible, saying, "The quotes and statements Nelson Mandela had made and put forth were all in the script. It was a question of making it accurate. Morgan had the advantage of having met Mandela on many occasions; he picked up his cadence. We gathered what it was like for him to be in prison for 27 years—you have a lot of time to think. We were going through material and talking to people who were there, and it all fit together.” Upon its release, the film was met with critical praise, with Roger Ebert writing of Eastwood's direction, "Clint Eastwood, I believe, understood all of these things and also sought to make a film he believed he could make, in an area where he felt a visceral connection."