FIFA World Cup 3rd Place Play off Match: The ‘Losers Final’ or the Final Chance to Shine?

Did you know?

The FA introduced a third-place play off to the FA Cup in 1970. During the five years that third place was contested the only year of any significance was 1972.

That season's match was the first FA Cup tie to be decided on penalties.

Germany celebrating their success in the 2010 edition

“FIFA back ‘losers final’” The Daily Star ran as a headline prior to the latest edition referring to FIFA much maligned third-place play off match. The Times, although not as scathing, ran the headline “Fifa defends match that no one wants” and Scott Murray, in his preview of the 2010 match for guardian.co.uk said “It’s the most pointless match in all football.” But history also tells us that the World Cup’s third place match is important. It’s a constant reminder of the origins of a tournament.

Like the Olympic Games, FIFA’s World Cup awards bronze to its third place team and the links to the world’s oldest organised sports event don’t stop there. The Summer Olympics of 1932 was scheduled for Los Angeles and due to football’s lack popularity in America, the established tournament was dropped. Angered by the International Olympic Committee’s stance and fuelled by a long standing disagreement over the status of amateur players, FIFA set in motion plans for football’s equivalent of the Olympic Games.

The Olympic football tournament had been organised by FIFA since 1914 so they knew how to run an international football tournament and how popular it would be. The choice of Uruguay as the hosts of the very first World Cup was due, in part, to them being reigning champions of this competition.

The World Cup would inevitably take aspects of the Olympic tournaments however the ‘Bronze medal match’, as the third place play off is sometimes referred to, didn’t take place during the first edition in 1930. Sources differ on exactly why this was, with one stating that a match was scheduled but didn’t take place as Yugoslavia, upset with the refereeing in their semi-final, refused to play against Uruguay. Another source claims that third place was awarded to Yugoslavia because of their semi-final loss to the eventual champions, Uruguay.

The first match took place in 1934 and it was won by the latest victors, Germany. Since that time great football nations such as Brazil (1938 and 1978) and France (1958 and 1986), amongst others, have finished third so for all the criticism levelled at it, the match is not without pedigree.

For players the third place match can often be a chance to make a final or rare appearance for their country. Oliver Kahn played his last match for Germany in the 2006 play off match and Hans-Jörg Butt played in goal for the same nation 4 years later having spent seven years on the bench.

On occasion the match has also helped decide the destination of the Golden Boot. Davor Suker (1998), Toto Schillaci (1990) and Leonidas (1938) have all scored in the match to secure the Golden Boot. Just Fontaine's four goals for France in the 1958 match helped him to a record tally of thirteen goals for the tournament. A record that may never be broken.

So does the history of the match mean there’s a future for it?

FIFA recently stated that the match will remain as part of the World Cup. “There is still prestige and pride at stake,” a representative for the governing body told The Times, prior to the latest edition. Uruguay’s manager Maximiliano Pereira added his support saying that “There’s a difference between coming fourth and third…”

So is the third-place play off really the ‘loser’s final’ that ‘no one wants to win’ or is it a great occasion that reminds us of the origins of the World Cup and provides a final stage for those lucky enough to make it that far?

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Donnacha C profile image

Donnacha C 5 years ago from Ennis, Co Clare, Republic of Ireland

3rd place games are indeed important and the teams who reach that stage of such a prestigious competition should embrace it and not moan about it.....

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