The World Cup match no team wants to play in
EARLY on Monday morning, France plays Croatia in the biggest football game in the world.
Billions will watch to see who wins the World Cup in the world’s biggest sporting event.
It’s the culmination of a month of some breathtaking football in Russia, with one key statistic showing why this World Cup will be remembered for years to come.
It’s just too bad that the night before the final there is the third place playoff between England and Belgium.
There are 64 games at the World Cup. Sixty-three mean something. But this game does not.
The two losers from the semi-finals will now be forced into a playoff for third place. The bronze medal match so to speak. Except there is no bronze medal on offer.
Football’s not coming home for England, but neither is the English team just yet.
It’s the game neither team wants to play.
Even England manager Gareth Southgate admits as much.
“The honest thing is it’s not a game any team wants to play in. We have two days to prepare. We will want to give a performance of huge pride, no question about that,” Southgate said after England’s 2-1 extra-time loss to Croatia.
“Every time we wear the shirt of our national team, we want to play with pride and play well and win. It will be a really difficult task to assess everybody over the next 24 hours and get them mentally back to where we want them to be for a game like that, but that will be the challenge.”
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez had similar thoughts after the 1-0 loss to France.
“It is a difficult emotion to manage. You are disappointed you lost the semi-final. It is difficult to almost see the opportunity to play another game as a positive.”
Writing for USA Today, Martin Rogers said the playoff was “utterly pointless”.
“It is the third-place playoff, a sleepy stroll that serves the purpose of filling FIFA coffers a little more, ensuring the action-free gap between the semi-finals and final is not too long, and generally pisses everyone off,” he wrote.
“Bronze medals mean something at the Olympics. They don’t at the World Cup, and they don’t in soccer generally — nor in most team sports.”
For two teams like England and Belgium — who would no doubt still be hurting — to have to dust themselves off and play again is embarrassing.
There has been a third place playoff at every World Cup since 1934, but you’d be hard pressed to find a football fan able to remember more than one result.
It’s because it’s a game that has no meaning.
People who like the third-fourth playoff will say it’s a game that generates more goals — which is true.
There has only been four goals scored in the past three World Cup finals, compared to 12 in the past three third place playoffs.
But doesn’t that tell you something?
That the players couldn’t really care less what the result is so defence goes out the window.
When people look back at England’s and Belgium’s campaigns in Russia it will be the semi-final losses that are remembered.
Not whatever happens in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Instead, one of these two teams will finish a tournament with back-to-back losses, which hardly seems a fitting end to making the final four of the biggest sporting event in the world.