On Tuesday, Brazil lost to Germany in a most heartbreaking fashion, down five goals by the break and ultimately losing 7-1. On Wednesday, Netherlands’ loss was just as cruel, albeit in a different way, with the Dutch taking Argentina to penalties before crashing out.
Now, the two teams must meet to determine who will be crowned third-best of the 2014 World Cup. The match to determine third-place takes place today, at 4 p.m. ET.
Many players and managers involved in this penultimate match of the Brazil tournament don’t see the point. They came so close to having one hand on the World Cup trophy. In the case of Brazil, their pride is shattered. For Netherlands, they played a match that exhausted, both mentally and physically, only to miss out on the final by mere inches. Why play for the honor of third place, when the only real honor is being proclaimed world champions?
A quick scan of World Cup history gives no concrete reason for the introduction, in 1934, of the third place match. Perhaps it’s our need, as sports fans, to have things placed into a neat order. First place will be sorted, second will be the team that lost the final. But third, that tantalizing bronze medal — that’s hard to determine if the two sides that lost the semis have never met.
But while the teams involved may hate the idea of playing out this game, preferring instead to head home to lick their wounds, it’s usually a match loved by those who watch. The pressure is off both sides. Throughout the tournament, up to the semifinals, teams needed to play cautiously, intent on surviving to make it to the next round.
These teams, however, did not always follow the script. Sure, Holland took their last two games to penalties, but they demolished Spain 5-1 before playing out a 3-2 thriller with Australia. Brazil, meanwhile, beat Croatia 3-1 and Cameroon 4-1 before that historic demolishing in the semifinal.
That means we should be in for some fun soccer today. Brazil will want to be remembered in a better light, rather than as a side that conceded five in less than twenty minutes. As for Netherlands, they have nothing to lose. After their shambolic showing in Euro 2012, no one thought they’d be moments from a second consecutive World Cup final. It’s one last chance for the oranje to show just how far they’ve come.
Finally, there’s a great chance this match could be a thrilling, chaotic game, hearkening back to those heady days of the group stages. In the past eight tournaments, a total of 35 goals have been scored in the third-place match. Only in 1990 did the game provide less than four goals. What sort of excitement might we see today?