The 3rd Place Play-Off gets a lot of criticism. People say its pointless. Neither nation is really playing for anything. Both are inevitably deflated following their semi-final defeats. It’s hard to fill the stadium. It’s just an extra game to shoehorn in extra tv money. It’s not important. Who cares?
But I think that the concept has merit. I see it as an occasion to applaud those who got so far. It’s the calm before the storm: a chance for fans to sit back and enjoy a game where the two teams have nothing to lose (my own opinion being that the 3rd Place Play-Off tends to produce very watchable contests) before the serious business of the final can begin. Yes, it’s a time filler, but what’s wrong with that? I can watch this German team all day, and I’m glad I get an opportunity to see them on the pitch again before the tournament concludes.
For those teams that were not expected to get far (Bulgaria/Sweden 94, Croatia 98, South Korea/Turkey 02, Germany 06, Uruguay 10), it’s the final bow to an impressive campaign. As the last two tournaments showed, it’s frequently a chance for the host nation to end the tournament gracefully. It’s a chance for individuals to stamp their mark for the last time (Klose, Forlan and Muller are still going for the Golden Boot, remember). Sometimes, it’s the last call for notable players (Oliver Khan in 06 springs to mind. Klose is unlikely to play in another World Cup either).
It’s a chance for RTE to cut loose and let Apres Match have their fun by taking over the entire broadcast. That’s what it is: it’s a laid back, play-it-as-you-like, game of football.
Finally, for some teams, the prize of third place at the biggest stage in football actually is something to aspire too. I see no shame in it. You got this far, what not grab for bronze?
Uruguay and Germany should be proud of how far they’ve gotten. Neither was fancied at the start. Here’s hoping they cap their tournaments with an entertaining game of football. One with no consequences, no pressure, just the sport as it should be played.