World Cup Blog: Third place, who cares?

07:30 12 July 2014


England's Trevor Steven is pursued by Italy's Carlo Ancelotti (Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS)


Play-off preview: Brazil v Holland

Diego Maradona in action for Argentina in the 1990 World Cup final against West Germany (pic: Peter Robinson/EMPICS)Diego Maradona in action for Argentina in the 1990 World Cup final against West Germany (pic: Peter Robinson/EMPICS)

The penultimate match in a World Cup is the one nobody really wants to play.

Beaten semi-finalists, heartbroken at having missed out on the chance to play for football’s ultimate prize, must rouse themselves for another 90 minutes (or more) just so they can say they finished third.

Does anyone really care?

The only third-place play-off I can remember from the past 32 years is England’s meeting with Italy in 1990.

I honestly could not tell you which nations had appeared in any of the others during my lifetime.

Bobby Robson’s England got us so close to the final in Italy, before losing THAT penalty shoot-out to West Germany.

In hindsight, it was probably just as well for me that the likes of Gary Lineker et al did not make it through to meet Argentina. I would have missed out on all the fun at home as I was on a school trip to Germany when the final was played.

Robert Clack had offered a group of pupils the chance to attend the Oberammergau Passion Play, an event held once every 10 years where around 2,000 inhabitants of a Bavarian village act out a theatrical production of the life of Jesus Christ.

It was first performed in 1634, after villagers made a vow to do so if spared from the bubonic plague that was sweeping the region.

Anyway, all I remember about it now is that it went on for hours, we couldn’t understand much of it – even though I was halfway through my German A-level – and England had this pesky third-place play-off match to play.

I have a vague recollection of our youth hostel having a big screen to watch the match on and we managed to sneak a few beverages in to enjoy while watching the action beamed live from Bari.

England included Tony Dorigo at left-back in place of Stuart Pearce – no doubt still traumatised by his spot-kick failure in the semi-final – and had Peter Shilton making the last of his 125 appearances in goal.

But it was mostly tedious fare until the 71st minute, when Shilton gifted Robert Baggio the opening goal.

David Platt headed England level, having netted in wins over Belgium (that amazing last-gasp volley) and Cameroon (another header), but the hosts had the final say as Toto Schillaci converted a late penalty to clinch the Golden Boot with his sixth goal of the tournament.

England received the Fair Play award, meanwhile, for the lowest average number of yellow cards per match. How we celebrated.

So what of tonight’s match?

Brazil meet Holland after contrasting experiences in the last four.

The Neymar/Thaigo Silva-less hosts were hammered 7-1 by Germany in their tie, in case you have been on another planet, while the Dutch suffered penalty shoot-out drama against Argentina, after their clash finished goalless after 120 minutes. So close, but yet so far, and now condemned to the third-place play-off.

Personally, I have no interest who wins as neither side include players from my favourite club.

Current form suggests a win for the Netherlands. Will we even remember it?

As for the final in 1990, I didn’t get to see it. We were walking the streets of Oberammergau looking for more supplies.

But we heard the result from someone and I was pleased the Germans had won, thanks to Brehme’s penalty as the Argentinians finished with only nine men, as I had one of their jerseys at the time.

Tomorrow, 24 years on, I will make sure I’m in front of a TV cheering them on again.

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