x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

More than just pride is at stake in third place match

Uruguay and Germany have plenty of incentive to finish in the top three in South Africa, says Paul Radley.

Luis Suarez, right, the Uruguay striker, says he and his teammates will 'play to the death' to secure third place at the World Cup.
Luis Suarez, right, the Uruguay striker, says he and his teammates will 'play to the death' to secure third place at the World Cup.

Germany and Uruguay boast five World Cup championships between them, so they would be forgiven for regarding their meeting to decide who finishes third in South Africa as a waste of their time. However, their pre-match pronouncements suggest otherwise. Luis Suarez, the Uruguay striker who has amply demonstrated his desire to win at all costs already in this tournament, has been quoted as saying he will "play to the death for third place". Success would make this Uruguay side pioneers of sorts in their homeland. They have played in two third-place play-offs and lost both - in 1954 to Austria and then against West Germany in 1970. Germany have a hat-trick of bronze medals, to go with their three World Cup titles. History suggests this fixture could be one to watch.

The third-place match has proved to be worth tuning in for over the years, mainly because it has a guaranteed formula for goals.

Having just lost the important semi-final match, and hence the chance of becoming world champions has disappeared, most of the players do not really want to be out on the pitch and are dreaming about their forthcoming holidays when the game kicks off. Then the other team scores. The pride of some players is pricked, so they go on the attack. Half the team are still not bothered, so play becomes disjointed and chances are aplenty.

It may often seem like an anticlimactic addendum to the fixture list, but the play-off has had its uses for goalscorers. Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose and Diego Forlan all have good reason to be motivated by their final match in South Africa. Each remains in the running to finish as the tournament's top scorer. Davor Suker, the Croatia striker, pinched the Golden Boot in 1998 with his 35th-minute winner against Holland in their third-place match. Just Fontaine, of France, bloated his own tally at the 1958 tournament to a massive 13 when he scored four in his side's 6-3 rout of West Germany. Klose's desire for goals in Port Elizabeth will be greater than most. The Bayern Munich striker, who has amassed 14 goals in three tournaments, needs two more to leapfrog Ronaldo, the Brazilian striker, and become the all-time leading scorer in World Cups.

Bronze is the new gold - or at least it has been for Sweden and Poland in the past. Neither is really considered to be among football's leading powers, as evidenced by the fact neither made it to South Africa. Yet they both have a penchant for finishing within the top three at World Cups.

The Swedes trumped Spain when they took third place in 1950. As the tournament was played on a round-robin format, rather than knockout, there was no actual play-off match as such. However, they won their match against La Roja, at the same time as Uruguay were sealing first place with a win over the hosts, Brazil. Sweden, the 1958 finalists, also trounced Bulgaria 4-0 in the USA '94 play-off, while Poland finished third in 1974 and 1982.

The Germany midfielder may have lost form just at the wrong time in the semi-final against Spain, but he has been otherwise outstanding for Joachim Loew's side. And, judging by his display against Portugal four years ago, Schweinsteiger steps up to the mark when third-place is at stake. Then a mere 21-year-old stripling, the Bayern Munich terrier scored twice and forced the third, an own goal by Petit and Germany won bronze on home soil. pradley@thenational.ae

1958: France 6, West Germany 3 Just Fontaine's record haul for a single World Cup of 13 goals is unlikely to be beaten. The Frenchman, left, scored four in the battle for bronze against West Germany. 1986: France 4, Belgium 2 (aet) After six matches in less than a month, Belgium ended their energy-sapping tournament in Mexico with an extra-time defeat to France to finish fourth. 2002: Turkey 3, South Korea 2 South Korea rode their luck throughout their home World Cup, making the semi-finals thanks to some dubious officiating. However, their fortune ran dry against Turkey.