Louis Van Gaal Right, World Cup Third-Place Match Is Obsolete and Pointless

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

Netherlands' head coach Louis van Gaal returns to the bench during the extra time of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo Brazil, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

Fresh from the disappointment and anti-climatic World Cup exit at the semi-final stage by way of a penalty shootout, it's fair to say that all Netherlands players and staff want to do right now is board a plane, go home and go on holiday.

Being so close to reaching a second successive World Cup final, the players will be at their lowest ebb right now, realising how close they were to a shot at winning a first-ever World Cup trophy.

Instead, they will prepare for a pointless third-place play-off match on Saturday, the day before the main event, fulfilling a fixture obligation which few can be bothered with and none take any real meaning from.

 

Van Gaal

Dutch boss Louis van Gaal has already stated how he does not wish to take part and has long been against the inclusion of the third-place match at the World Cup finals, as per Yahoo Sports.

I think that this match should never be played. I have been saying this for the past 10 years.

We will just have to play the game but it is unfair. We will have one day less to recover and that's not fair play. But the worst thing is, I believe, there is a chance that you lose twice in a row in a tournament in which you've played so marvelously well. You go home as a 'loser' because possibly you've lost the last two matches.

This game has nothing to do with sports in my opinion. No tournament, no football tournament, especially in the last stage, should you have players playing for third or fourth. There is only one prize and one award that counts for anything and that is becoming champion.

The Netherlands manager is correct; there is no third-place match at the European Championships or domestically in an FA Cup or Champions League Final. Nobody wants to know it was better than the other semi-finalist when it has already been robbed of a chance to take home a trophy.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 09: Head coach Louis van Gaal of the Netherlands looks on with his team after being defeated by Argentina in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between the Netherlands and Argentina at Arena
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

One exception has habitually been the Olympics, because of course bronze medals are handed out to third. But at a World Cup, the supposed pinnacle of footballing achievement, where is the prestige or acclaim in coming third instead of fourth?

For Van Gaal specifically, the match is perhaps extra irksome, as he is due to take on a new club-level role straight after the finals, with this game delaying it further, but the sentiment remains the same regardless.

 

Extreme Example

Substitutes who have not performed at all or very little throughout the tournament have generally been handed the chance to play in the third-place match in recent times. Netherlands have so far fielded every player except one—so perhaps third-choice goalkeeper Michel Vorm will take the field at some point.

Jordy Clasie is the 22nd Netherlands player to play at World Cup 2014. Louis van Gaal has now used 22 out of 23 players in the squad.

— World Cup 2014 (@WorldCupPosts) July 9, 2014

Previously, the likes of Hans-Jorg Butt and Oliver Kahn have done so for Germany, having not played during the main stages of the competition.

Bulgaria's players in 1994 had upset some of the biggest teams but for varying reasons fell short of making much effort in the third-place game, losing 4-0 to Sweden.

16 JUL 1994:  TOMAS BROLIN OF SWEDEN CELEBRATES AFTER SCORING THE OPENING GOAL AGAINST BULGARIA 1994 WORLD CUP FINALS THIRD AND FOURTH PLAYOFF MATCH AT THE ROSE BOWL STADIUM IN PASADENA, CALIFORNIA. Mandatory Credit: Allsport/ALLSPORT
Getty Images/Getty Images

The one positive which could be said for the third-place game is that, on account of there being no real pressure or expectation, goals are a common theme for watching fans. The 2010 version saw five goals, as did 2002, while five were scored in 2006.

 

The Brazilian Contradiction

Brazil's players might just be feeling as though they have an apology to make to their fans and countrymen, and the third-place match might be the perfect stage to do so.

Leo Correa/Associated Press

One final game in front of thousands of onlookers might not be the stage they wanted before the tournament, but after a 7-1 hammering at home, they need to make amends. Questions will be asked of this side regardless of the result, but a positive reaction to bow out on might just save an international career or two.

Defeat to Netherlands in Brasilia, though, especially a Netherlands side which will likely feature back-up players, could exacerbate what is already a national issue to be dealt with.