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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…

It might also be tempting to suggest there’s meaning for Germany, as they’re “defending their title,” but only if you want to take the p**s. Though more seriously, their victory over Portugal in 2006 provided a joyous ending to a successful competition on and off the pitch. Of course, no-one wants to play in the third-place match for the obvious reason that you have to lose a semi-final to get there. But even though Uruguay are earmarked for a presidential reception on Monday regardless of events in Port Elizabeth, third place will add just that bit more to the celebrations. And previous play-offs have provided memorable moments. Watch the half-a-million “samba football” montages which accompany TV coverage of Brazil’s World Cup games and, if they go beyond 1970, a goal by right full-back Nelinho past Italy’s Dino Zoff from out near the right touchline will surely feature. That came from 1978’s third place game.

In fact, with the pressure largely off, third-place matches have often been good ones. As well as all the afore-mentioned games, I hugely enjoyed France’s appearances, defeat to Poland in 1982 and extra-time victory over Belgium in 1986. Nations that treat it as a friendly use it as an opportunity to give squad players a game, and such players have often taken their opportunity to replace the stars. Those French games were watched from the bench throughout by players such as Michel Platini and Alain Giresse. Germany allowed goalkeeper Oliver Kahn to use the 2006 game as a fond farewell from international football. Tony Dorigo played for England in 1990…

This year’s protagonists met in consecutive World Cups in 1966 and 1970. In 1966, West Germany’s 4-0 quarter-final stroll came against a nine-man Uruguay, who rather better lived down to the “cynical South Americans” stereotype than the more infamous Argentine side which lost to England at the same stage. In 1970’s actual third-placed match, a Wolfgang Overath goal was all the sides offered in a game hugely overshadowed by West Germany’s defeat to Italy in the “match of the century” semi-final – Franz Beckenbauer’s arm-in-a-sling et al… So after the write-up I’ve just given the third-placed play-off, expect a ghastly combination of those two games in Nelson Mandela Stadium. Sorry.

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