What’s The Point Of The Third/Fourth Place Play-Off?

So the World Cup third-place play-off is the most meaningless match in international football? Holders of tickets for England’s Wembley friendly against Hungary in (count ‘em) five weeks may have a view. There wasn’t a great sense of that meaninglessness when England were in the 1990 version, with Bobby Robson as animated as he ever was when exhorting England to “now go and win it” after David Platt’s late equaliser against Italy. And, more pertinently, Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov wasn’t beating the ground with indifference in 1994’s game when he had to make do with a share of that tournament’s “Golden Boot” (the laces and the insole?) after hitting the post. So it is that Miroslav Klose, if fit, Diego Forlan, Thomas Mueller and even Luis “the Cat” Suarez can find meaning in this year’s “consolation match.” Certainly nations who appear less regularly in the later stages of international tournaments seem to regard third place as something worth playing for. South Korea and Turkey certainly had a go in 2002, Croatia cared in 1998 – as many bruised and battered Dutch players could testify. Sweden’s third place in 1994 was hugely celebrated – even though they’d been finalists in 1958. Poland took justifiable pride in their third places in 1974 and 1982 (the former making England look good after Poland knocked them out in qualifying). And England themselves in 1990…...

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