World Cup·Blog

World Cup 3rd-place game a meaningless exercise

Everyone remembers the World Cup Final – who won, the heroes and villains, and where they watched it. But FIFA’s longstanding third-place playoff is of little, if any, consequence to players and fans alike, writes Nigel Reed.

Unfair to force crestfallen players to play

Brazil's David Luiz, left, teammate Thiago Silva, et al have to find some way to recover from their German humiliation before an essentially meaningless third-place match against the Netherlands. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

Don’t look. No cheating. Quick question: which two teams contested the 2010 FIFA World Cup bronze medal game, and who won?

Good answer. Germany and Uruguay – the Germans ran out as 3-2 winners. Our memory is better than we both thought. Let’s make it a little tougher.

Who won the 2006 World Cup and who was shown a straight red card? Easy enough right? Italy won it on penalties and Zinedine Zidane was sent off for his infamous headbutt.

We’re doing nicely, so just one more: Which teams played for the bronze the day before Zizou’s red mist moment?

Head-scratching time. I’m pretty sure one of them was Germany (again) but who did they meet?

I’ll admit it. I cheated and looked. Correct answer is Portugal, who lost out 3-1 to the hosts and consequently finished fourth. Quiz over.

My point is this: everyone remembers the World Cup Final – who won, the heroes and villains, and where they watched it. FIFA’s longstanding third-place playoff is of little, if any, consequence to players and fans alike.

An Olympic bronze medal means something. A team or an individual gets a tangible and treasured reward, not for winning but for competing as hard as possible and earning a place on the podium.

A World Cup bronze medal means the team blew it in the semifinal.

Prolonging the agony

Don’t believe me? Then believe Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal. He insists it “should never be played” and describes it as “unfair.”

And he’s got the easier job – rallying the Dutch for one more game. How on earth does his opposite number, Luiz Felipe Scolari, prepare Brazil following its soul-destroying humiliation at the hands of the Germans?

I’m firmly with Van Gaal on this one. FIFA insists on prolonging the agony for the losing semifinalists, presumably because it generates more revenue and gives its sponsors an extra day of global exposure. The game itself, though often more entertaining than the final since the pressure is off both teams, is a pointless exercise.

Brazil expected to win its own World Cup. That cannot now happen and there is hardly a crumb of comfort to be had by finishing third. What if the Dutch win? The hosts, having been embarrassed once, risk another loss and its campaign being ridiculed all over again.

Defeat in a major semifinal is as bad as it gets. As a player, coach or fan, your team has stumbled at the final hurdle and misses out on the showpiece occasion. Demoralized by getting so near and yet so far, the natural human emotion is to come to terms with it, move on and go home.

Neither Brazil nor the Netherlands will see a World Cup bronze medal as any sort of consolation. Van Gaal has a new job waiting for him in England. I am sure he and his new employers would prefer him to be house-hunting in the upscale outskirts of Manchester.



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