What do Sweden, Croatia and Turkey all have in common? Yes, that’s right, rather surprisingly they have all finished third in the World Cup. It is one of the biggest sporting events in the world and yet most football fans would be unable to recall the games in which these sides secured third place. Who can forget the 1994 classic where Bulgaria succumbed 4-0 to Sweden? What about Turkey’s superb 3-2 win over South Korea in 2002? We all remember them, don’t we? Of course we don’t, the truth is that to most football fans the third and fourth place play-off is a meaningless fixture, a forgettable aperitif to the main event. Let’s ignore that though and focus on the real game this weekend, nobody really cares about the World Cup final, do they? The real fun is to be had between Uruguay and Germany…at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Forgettable it may be, but one thing this fixture always offers is entertainment. In the last four World Cups there have been 16 goals in the third and fourth place play-off fixture. Now I was never very good at Maths but even I know that’s an average of four goals a game. This competition has had its highs and its lows but it would probably be fair to say it’s slightly fallen short in terms of entertainment, the average goals per game is only 2.2 and it would be very surprising if Uruguay and Germany didn’t serve up a more enjoyable spectacle tonight.
In many ways the game should be more entertaining than Holland v Spain. In that game we see the masters of possession in Spain taking on the much-maligned Holland, who bear little or no resemblance to the days of Total Football with Johann Cruyff et al. In tonight’s fixture we see the free-scoring Germany do battle with the Diego Forlan inspired Uruguay. Despite the prize of third place up for grabs, the match will have something of a friendly feel to it with both sides going for it, La Celeste have already said they will “fight” for third place and there’s no way Joachim Löw’s Gemany will give up easily.
So what’s going to happen? Germany came third last time round with a 3-1 win over Portugal (does anyone remember that?) and it would be a brave man to bet against them here. They have been fantastic in this tournament, demolishing England and Argentina in the process and were beaten only by Spain, who will surely be the eventual winners of the tournament. Unlike Uruguay they don’t rely on the brilliance of one man. They’re a team in which everybody knows their roles and everybody performs them to the best of their ability. Players like Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller have arrived on the world stage in South Africa and Bastian Schweinsteiger must be a contender for player of the tournament.
Uruguay on the other hand have very few names in their side. The one obvious exception is Athletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan. The ex-Manchester United man has been superb throughout this tournament, lifting his side with some superb goals and adding the gloss to his colleague’s thoroughly workman-like efforts. Luis Suárez has had an interesting tournament, featuring at both ends, but the man who scored 49 goals in all competitions for Ajax last year will always be a threat, especially to Per Metersacker and Arne Friedrich who don’t look to be the best central defensive partnership in the world.
So with only an hour or so to kick-off I’m going to be very brave and make a prediction, at least that way there will be something at stake for me during the game. I would be surprised if it wasn’t a fast and free-flowing game, neither side has anything to lose and both may as well attempt to go out on a high. They’re not watertight at the back but are both pretty handy going forward and thus I see a 4-2 Germany win. Quick, rush down to your nearest bookie and hand over some cash, I also predicted Matt Upson would score against Germany so I’m bound to be right! You may as well go for it anyway, it’s not as if we will remember the outcome of this game for long anyway, regardless of how entertaining it may be.