Two days remain at the 2014 World Cup. Up first, the maligned third-place game, which features the host nation of Brazil squaring off with the Netherlands. The match is considered a consolation for the semifinal losers, though it rarely receives glowing reviews.
"They can keep it. Only one prize counts and that is becoming world champion," is what Dutch star Arjen Robben said about the fixture, as noted by the Associated Press (via USA Today). Plenty of players on both squads probably feel exactly the same way.
Yet, those thoughts tend to fade and the competitive fire starts burning once the whistle blows to start the match. Four years ago, Germany beat Uruguay 3-2 in an entertaining clash. Hopefully Brazil and the Netherlands can put on a similar show.
Fixture and Match Odds
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Updated Knockout Bracket
As always, the effort level from each side is far more important than the talent in the starting lineups for the third-place game. Managers may even make some notable changes to their lineups to get some players that haven't seen much playing time on the pitch. They will be more hungry to perform.
Which national team will earn third place?
That said, Brazil should be the more active and engaged squad. It's coming off a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany. The reaction of the home crowd throughout the stunning blowout loss provided some of the tournament's most memorable images.
A win on Saturday won't eliminate the pain from that defeat or missing out on the ultimate goal, but it would at least allow the host nation to end on a high note.
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari stated that it's important to honor the national team despite the disappointment, as quoted by Goal.com:
We made the semi-finals, the top four teams in the world, and there were a lot of good teams that were knocked out before us.
I know it's a much smaller dream that we all wanted, but we have to honour the shirt of the national team.
The question is how much intensity the Selecao will play with after what happened against Germany.
If both teams do play at least close to the level fans have seen throughout the tournament, it should develop into a close, hard-fought match. WhoScored.com points out that these teams are the top two sides in terms of fouls committed:
Brazil: Have committed more fouls (107) than any other team at World Cup 2014; Netherlands second (106) #BRAvsNED— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 12, 2014
Of course, there's always a chance the two sides will just go through the motions. The club campaign is right around the corner, and it's doubtful players are going to take any risks diving into tackles that could end up costing them time on the sidelines.
The Sklar Brothers aren't expecting many highlight-reel moments, comparing the match to the Miami Heat without LeBron James:
Watching the Miami Heat this year will be like watching Brazil v. Netherlands tomorrow.— The Sklar Brothers (@SklarBrothers) July 12, 2014
Neymar remains out, but Thiago Silva is once again available for selection after missing the semifinal due to yellow-card accumulation. His absence played a major role in the German attack finding so much space and scoring goals seemingly at will.
As for the Oranje, it's hard to predict what type of performance they'll produce. Robben made his thoughts on the match crystal clear, and Robin van Persie certainly didn't look at full strength in the loss to Argentina.
In the end, there should be a much greater sense of urgency from the Brazilians to end the tournament with win, even though it's not the one they wanted. That will make the difference in what should be a close match between two disappointed sides.
Prediction: Brazil 2, The Netherlands 1