Third place matches may be as American as a veggie dog, so don’t be no surprised that this vegetarian wants to give you reason to watch today’s match between Germany and Uruguay (2:30 p.m. Eastern kick-off on ABC). If names like Lahm, Özil, Suárez, and Schweinsteiger don’t do it for you, than tale of Miroslav Klose’s quest for the all-time World Cup goals record or Diego Forlán’s golden ball candidacy aren’t going to move you.
So, I’ll go with something more basic: a look back at the history of the World Cup’s third place match. Amongst the sixteen matches, there’s been only one lop-sided affair, and while there have been some dispirited contests, there have also been some proverbial moments of magic. After all, how often can you start a historical recounting with a four-goal performance:
1. Sweden 1958: France 6, West Germany 3 - Just Fontaine completed the most prolific tournament in World Cup history with his 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th goals of the competition (a record), the last two coming in the the match’s final 12 minutes. If anybody can pull a Just Fontaine today in Port Elizabeth, it would be the highlight of the 2010 finals and possibly give Lebron James some competition at the coffee cart on Monday morning.
2. England 1966, Portugal 2, Soviet Union 1 - Eusebio opened the match with his ninth goal of the tournament (from the spot in the 12th minute), with Minsk striker Eduard Malofeyev equalizing just before half time. José Torres’s 89th minute goal gave the Selecção the nation’s best ever-finish (in their first World Cup) and the third-place match one of its most dramatic finishes. The result is the best World Cup placing for each side, one the Soviets may never replicate.
3. France 1938: Brazil 4, Sweden 2 - Arne Nyberg’s 38th minute goal, giving Sweden a 2-0 lead, may have awakened a slumbering soccer giant. Brazil would pull one back in the 44th minute before a brace from Leonidas da Silva gave the Brazilians the lead (and the striker the tournament’s scoring title). Brazil would finish second in the first finals after the war’s break and ... and I guess they didn’t win their first world title until Sweden 1958. But this is a third place match. Can’t we jazz it up and pretend it had a greater historical significance?
4. Italy 1990: Italy 2, England 1 - After each team was eliminated via shootout in the semifinals, a Salvatore Schillaci 86th minute penalty kick broke a 1-1 tie that saw all three goals scored in the match’s last twenty minutes, giving the 51,000 in Bari consolation for the Azzurri’s near miss.
5. Germany 2006: Germany 3, Portugal 1 - A young Bastian Schweinsteiger took over the match in the second half, with two goals and the dead ball that led to a third, own goal. Portugal would get a late tally to prevent the clean sheet in a match that allowed a German team that exceeded its low expectations to say thank you to a home crowd that provided for a great tournament.
6. France 1998: Croatia 2, Netherlands 1 - Croatia’s first World Cup as an independent nation ends with a third place finish, defeating one of the world’s iconic soccer nations. Davor Suker’s tiebreaking goal in the 35th minute gave Croatia their medals and Davor Suker the Golden Shoe. The Dutch would go on to miss the 2002 World Cup.
7. Italy 1934: Germany 3, Austria 2 - An anticipated highpoint for Hugo Meisl’s Wunderteam was undone first in the semifinals by an Italy bulldozer (not considered a metaphor by all, given the only goal came after the Austrian goalkeeper was physically pushed over his line) and then by Germany, who got a brace from Ernst Lehner in defeating the pre-tournament favorites. Three years later, Meisl had passed away, and the following year, Austria was annexed by Germany, ending the Wunderteam era.
8. Argentina 1978: Brazil 2, Italy 1 - Brazil controversially finished in third place despite not losing a match all tournament, having lost the tiebreaker at the top of Group B to eventual champion Argentina. Goals by Nelinho and Dirceu reversed an early Italy lead to maintain Brazil’s loose claim to another world title. To this day controversy surrounding start-time gamesmanship and a Peruvian goalkeeper’s allegiance smudge Argentina’s first World Cup victory.
9. Korea-Japan 2002: Turkey 3, South Korea 2 - The co-hosts were down 11 seconds into the match but managed to equalize before falling behind by two goals. They pulled one back late, but if there’s something more quixotic than a third place match, it may be a third place match where 63,000 people leave disappointed.
10. Chile 1966: Chile 1, Yugoslavia 0 - Eliado Rojas’s second goal of the tournament win the hosts bronze right before the final whistle, a win that would be Chile’s last in the World Cup for 44 years. As dramatic as Portugal’s 1966 win over the Soviet Union was, a match-winning goal at the whistle tops it.
11. Mexico 1970: West Germany 1, Uruguay 0 - More than other third place matches, this match was a let down for each team, Uruguay coming off a loss to Brazil that conclusively made Brazil South America’s dynasty, West Germany similarly losing to Italy in one of the best matches ever. A 26th minute goal by Wolfgang Overath made for an understandably anti-climatic result.
12. West Germany 1974: Poland 1, Brazil 0 - The most successful team in Polish soccer history went undefeated through first group stage and missed their first World Cup final after a 1-0 loss to the hosts to finish the second group stage. Golden Shoe winner Grzegorz Lato scored his seventh goal of the tournament in the 76th minute, giving Poland their first medal.
13. Mexico 1986: France 4, Belgium 2 (a.e.t.) - A dramatic match with a 73rd minute equalizer and two extra time goals would have been near the top of this list had it not taken place in front of a less-than-half-capacity crowd in Puebla. France would build-on their third place finish by missing Italia 1990.
14. Switzerland 1954: Austria 3, Uruguay 1 - Uruguay had just been denied their third world title, being beaten by Hungary’s Golden Team in the semifinals, the first time somebody had eliminated the Uruguayans from a World Cup. Austria had just been beaten by West Germany, 6-1. The teams traded early goals to go into halftime at one, with a Luis Cruz own goal in the second half separating the sides before Ernst Ocwirk provided Austria its final margin.
15. Spain 1982: Poland 3, France 2 - Three goals in a six minute span surrounding half-time gave Poland a 3-1 lead in the nation’s only appearance in the last four. For France, it was the second of five appearances in the semifinals.
16. United States 1994: Sweden 4, Bulgaria 0 - A match-up between teams playing half-way across the world who have limited international followings saw the Swedes score four goals in the first 40 minutes of the most lop-sided third place match in the competition's history.