Belfast Telegraph

Q&A: All you need to know about the World Cup third-place play-off

Beaten semi-finalists England and Belgium go head to head on Saturday.

England play Belgium in the World Cup’s third-place play-off in St Petersburg on Saturday. Here, Press Association Sport looks at some details of the fixture.

Do teams take this play-off seriously?

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Louis van Gaal (right) did not particularly enjoy the fixture in 2014 (Mike Egerton/PA)

This is open to debate. Both England and Belgium have said they are approaching the game seriously but history shows this fixture is generally unloved and usually forgotten quickly. Having lost semi-finals and missed out on the chance to claim the big prize, teams can find it difficult to motivate themselves. Four years ago Holland coach Louis van Gaal made his thoughts clear, claiming the match was “unfair” on his players and should not be played.

What is there to gain?

In theory, the title of third place in the World Cup is not something to be sniffed at but, in reality, both teams will be remembered in years to come as beaten semi-finalists, rather than bronze medallists. Outside of the Olympics, third place carries little weight in tournament football. However, there is extra prize money at stake. The third-placed team will take home £18million and forurth-placed £16.6million. And while some may see the game as little more than a friendly, it is a competitive international. The FIFA ranking points could also come in handy when it comes to future seedings.

Are there any other benefits?

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Harry Kane has his sights on the Golden boot (Adam Davy/PA)

Harry Kane will certainly think so as the game gives him the chance to add to the six goals he has already scored in the tournament and win the Golden Boot with an impressive tally. Only once in the last 10 World Cups – Ronaldo in 2002 – has this award been won by any player scoring more than six. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, who has scored four, may also hope to at least draw level with Kane. Just Fontaine’s 13 goals in 1958 included four in the third-place play-off. Other Golden Boot winners to have netted in the game include Eusebio (1966), Toto Schillachi (1990), Davor Suker (1998) and Thomas Muller (2010).

But that aside, is there much enthusiasm?

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Chris Waddle is struggling to get excited about the fixture (Rebecca Maden/PA)

It remains to be seen how the players perform but Chris Waddle, a member of the England side that last played in a third-place play-off in 1990, appeared to speak for many in the country by saying: “I don’t know anybody who wants to play in this game.” Gareth Southgate will be able to give run-outs to his fringe players but Waddle doesn’t agree with that. “Just give them both bronze medals and send them home,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.

Do all teams see it that way?

No. For teams that have over-achieved in reaching the semi-finals, the fixture gives them an opportunity to end memorable campaigns on a high. In 1994 Sweden talked up the so-called bronze medal match and went out and crushed Bulgaria 4-0. For Croatia, finishing third in 1998, when they were still a new country, was a huge source of national pride.

Why was the fixture introduced?

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Italy (pictured) won the 1934 World Cup – the first tournament in which bronze medals were awarded (PA)

The third-place play-off was first introduced as a consolation match for the beaten semi-finalists in the 1934 tournament. After the final between Italy and Czechoslovakia in Rome, an Olympic-style ceremony featuring Germany, winners of the play-off in Naples the previous day, took place.

Why does FIFA persist with it?

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FIFA will hope for a good crowd in St Petersburg (AP)

For the organisers, it adds another game to the schedule and therefore provides another opportunity to bring in revenue from sponsors, ticket sales and, of course, TV. It also helps fill a gap between the semi-finals and final, and TV audiences will be expected to be reasonably healthy.

Has anyone made their name in this fixture?

A stunning curling goal from Brazil’s Nelinho in 1978 often makes World Cup highlights reels. People often do not realise that came in a third-place play-off. Turkey’s Hakan Sukur also made history in the 2002 fixture, scoring the fastest World Cup goal after just 11 seconds.

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