Third-place matches are odd things, once described in the venerable Guardian as “non-events, played out by desperately disappointed, and possibly thunderingly depressed, men who know all too well their only chance of immortailty has gone.” A bit dark, I’d say, but you get the point.
But we certainly can learn things. To wit:
If you saw the Confederations Cup third-place match on Sunday, you saw a strong Uruguayan side that may have deserved that third-place medal, probably doing more than Italy to take the consolation prize.
The Italians, predictably strong in the tournament – and, mercifully, not the same old Italy in terms of stylistic approach – were better in penalty kicks, leaving the Confederations Cup with a flourish of promise for one year hence.
As for one good lesson, let’s have a quick word about Uruguay and how the South Americans performance fits into a bigger World Cup picture.
When we talk about berths for the big show, opinions about South American representation can vary wildly. Too many spots? Or too few? This year there is a very good chance that six of the 10 nations will find their way to Brazil 2014.
By percentage, that is far more than Europe, where 13 of 53 (just 24 percent) will book passage.
So this is classic debate.
Part and parcel to the argument (as it relates to our part of the world especially) is the South American confederation’s northern neighbor, CONCACAF, which will put three or four teams into the field.
At this point, Uruguay isn’t even in position to automatically qualify for the World Cup. Again, that is a very strong side currently sitting mid-pack in the South American qualifying proceedings. It’s hard to argue what Uruguayan man of the moment Edinson Cavani said of his nation’s performance:
Well, I’m content for having scored goals today, but the nicest thing is that Uruguay leaves the Cup with a very good image, and walking tall. I don’t want to speak about luck, but they did enough to win the game. This makes a difference in a moment like this. But we did well, we played with honor, fought hard and now we leave with reasons to believe in this team.
“We did a beautiful job, with wins and good results like this one. We’re showing again the same Uruguay that did well at Copa America and the World Cup qualifiers. And that’s all that matters so close to the World Cup.”
Don’t forget, Uruguay finished atop its group at South Africa 2010, and then pushed the Netherlands in a highly competitive semifinal.
And yet, at this point Uruguay sits fifth in South American qualifying (actually tied for fifth, but with a game in hand over Venezuela). The group’s fifth-place team will face Asia’s fifth finisher for a berth in Brazil.
Too many teams for South America? The evidence, especially when held against a CONCACAF final round group that has hardly fulfilled expectations, suggests the better answer is “not enough.”