NZME's award winning* football blog Goalmouth Scramble is back. Our rotating stable of football writers will offer daily hot takes on all the action from the World Cup in Russia. Today, Cam McMillan looks at why, er, you need to watch the third and fourth playoff on Sunday morning.
Here's your guide to the 'must watch football game of the weekend' – the World Cup Third Place playoff (aka one man's quest to convince himself to get up at 3am on a Sunday).
Sure it's at 3am, sure it's the Belgium Reserves vs England A, sure it's technically the game for losers and sure it's the most pointless football fixture of the next four years but let me put on a FIFA PR hat, an ushanka, for a second and make the case.
THERE WILL BE GOALS
Who, Andreas Heraf excluded, doesn't like goals?
There used to be lots of goals in the World Cup final. From 1930 to 1986 there was 61 goals across the 13 finals. Then for some reason teams decided to not score goals in the final. A bold tactic. The last seven finals have brought 10 goals. With the seven losing teams combining for a massive one goal between them.
These are the scorelines of the last seven World Cup finals: 1-0 (AET), 1-0 (AET), 1-1 (5-3 pens), 2-0, 3-0, 0-0 (3-2), 1-0.
Now these are the scorelines of the last seven third place games: 3-0, 3-2, 3-1, 3-2, 2-1, 4-0, 2-1. Not just plenty of goals but close high scoring games.
I've even broken it down - last seven World Cups (aka after goals started drying up in finals)
World Cup final: Goal every 72 minutes
Third place game: Goal every 22 minutes
Am I just talking down the World Cup final to talk up the third place game? I sure am.
My day-long dream has been for a third place playoff to go to a shootout. Would it be the first ever shootout with nothing riding on it?
The penalty shootout is often a tense watch where players are mostly terrified about making a mistake and becoming the next Baggio or Batty. But what happens when the most cruel way to decide a match in all sports is needed to decide the most pointless match in all sports? Will players perform better because there is no pressure, or will they be too casual and every attempt with be a Panenka? It could be the best or worst shootout of all time.
The bad news is there is still extra-time.
GOLDEN BOOT WATCH
Harry Kane currently leads the tournament with six goals but has looked injured for the last few games. He deserves the day off. But it would be great if Romelu Lukaku, currently two goals behind Kane for the tournament, laces up just so he can have a shot at the golden boot award. Visions of Lukaku scoring a hat-trick, mixed with shots of Kane sitting on the bench reacting, could be great.
Jack Butland, Danny Welbeck, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Simon Mignolet! That's some names expected to take the field. Sure you may scoff but you're going to have to wait another month before any decent football returns.
The result could come up in a Pub Quiz.
THIRD IS BETTER THAN SECOND
In 2006, San Francisco State University psychologist David Matsumoto and judo writer Bob Willingham studied Olympic medalists standing on the podium – not one of the silver medalists smiled, while 18 of the 26 bronze medalists did. The Scientific American covers this off in a piece called 'Why Bronze Medalists Are Happier Than Silver Winners'.
For further evidence, look at this image of New Zealand's Nick Willis finishing third at the Rio Olympics 1500m final. He seems happy compared to silver medalist Taoufik Makhloufi. The Algerian is no doubt thinking about missing out on gold.
England were never going to beat France in a final. Belgium probably would have been favourites against Croatia on the other hand. But would England fans rather take a 3-0 soul destroying pasting in a World Cup final or sneak out third against Belgium?
Our own Steven Holloway called it:
This is England's chance to exact revenge on Group G rivals Belgium for that famous clash on June 29. Belgium won 1-0 that day. We all remember where we were that day (either in bed or on the couch). My research tells me this is the first time two sides from the same group have clashed again since Brazil and Czechoslovakia in 1962, who drew 0-0 in their first meeting before Brazil won the final 3–1.
First time in 56 years! That's almost Halley's Comet scale of rarity. A historic clash.
Here's 2010 Third place winner Sami Khedira
"We'd set our sights higher than this, but at the end of the day, the third-place play-off is another important game, and our aim was to win it.
"I think it was clear to everyone watching that we gave it everything we had and were utterly determined to win. We need time to reflect on what's happened at the tournament, but at the end of the day, this is a very, very young team. We've certainly laid down a marker, but we all want more, and I think we have it in us to win things in the coming years."
He was right. They won the World Cup four years later.
*Goalmouth Scramble's "award" was more of an inter-company acknowledgement in an email from 2012.
Previously, on Goalmouth Scramble:
Joel Kulasingham: World Cup of no sleep - the untold story
Steven Holloway: How I lost my money - the World Cup's worst bets
Joel Kulasingham: Why Belgium v Brazil is the sports event of the year
Niall Anderson: 10 things to do when there's no World Cup games to watch
Chris Rattue: Why England haven't got a hope of winning the World Cup
Damien Venuto: Why the world might want England to lose
Steven Holloway: 10 thoughts on the World Cup, and why Neymar is a d**k
Damien Venuto: The villains of the World Cup
Joel Kulasingham: The 11 All Blacks who would dominate* the FIFA World Cup
Chris Rattue: Bring on the penalty shootouts
Niall Anderson: So, uh, which of these World Cup teams are actually good?
Steven Holloway: Funbag: Messi and World Cup conspiracy theories
Michael Burgess: Why I'm missing Sepp Blatter
Cam McMillan: The far too early second round projections
David Leggat: A few things you need to know about the World Cup
Damien Venuto: Messi - The Argentinean Andrew Mehrtens?
Cam McMillan: Why Brazil will (and won't) win the World Cup
Niall Anderson: The best (and worst) games to watch
Chris Rattue: Funny footballs and goalkeepers
Chris Rattue: The big World Cup questions
Steven Holloway: Fancy a punt? The World Cup's best bets