Good morning, everyone. I’d imagine I’m unique in this way, but today is one of my favorite random sporting events. It’s the third place game at the World Cup. And I can’t be more excited. I fear we may not get many more of these once FIFA begins to realize how much the players hate them, so make sure to tune in this afternoon for Brazil-Netherlands. It’s sure to be fascinating in a way only third place games can be.
This game doesn’t matter much, and I’ll be the first to admit that. With the club season coming up rapidly, I completely understand why players wouldn’t want to risk getting hurt in an extra game like this one. As Arjen Robben pointed out, the whole World Cup is played so that teams can win a trophy. So why should they care about the only game that doesn’t matter in that competition for the trophy? It makes sense to have a third place game in the Olympics with there being a bronze medal, but why have one when there’s no extra incentive? Entertainment, that’s why.
There are a few interesting subplots in today’s game and most of them revolve around Brazil. For starters, both coaches will likely be coaching their last games. While Louis van Gaal will obviously leave for Manchester United with a great deal of dignity, his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari could be ridden out on a rail. Van Gaal might not care too much if he loses his final game in charge of the Dutch team, but Scolari will certainly be coaching for a semblance of pride. He should feel a huge amount of pressure to win this game, if only to avoid further embarrassment.
The team sheets won’t have many familiar names on them, but for vastly different reasons. Van Gaal’s stars won’t want to play, and why should they? We’ll likely see as many as 9 or 10 changes I’d imagine, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar leading the line. For some, this may be their final chance to put on their country’s uniform, and players like Dirk Kuyt might relish their last opportunity to wear the Dutch shirt. Brazil’s players might also fear it could be their final opportunity, but because of Tuesday’s embarrassment rather than becaause of old age. Fred, Jo, Fernandinho and Dani Alves, to name a few, all could be playing their last game for Brazil. If they have any self-pride, you have to think they’d want to give their all.
On that note, this game should be interesting to watch to see how Brazilian players react to the 7-1 shellacking by Germany. Will they be out to redeem themselves, or will they try and hide after the humiliation? I’d imagine it will be some of both. If there are usual starters in the starting 11, it will likely be because they want to restore some pride and I expect those players in particular to be energized. Whether or not they channel that energy in a positive way rather remains to be seen, but their could be serious passion on the field. If Brazil don’t score quickly, play could get chippy, and we might see a straight red card.
Nearly everybody on this roster might never play for their country again, with a few obvious exceptions, if Brazil goes out looking disinterested. A two or three goal loss would be devastating in so many ways. However, should they come out fighting, showing more passion and commitment on the field than they did Tuesday, and should they win convincingly, the players might be able to reframe this narrative. A goal or two from Fred, a disciplined performance from Paulinho, or any such strong exhibitions and some of the pain might be lessened.
With the Netherlands likely starting a lot of inexperienced defenders, Brazil could find spaces in the attacking third. And with the Dutch probably not caring too much, the game could open up early due to a lack of defensive tactics. As such, there is certainly room for Brazil to begin their atonement for Tuesday. However, I’m not entirely convinced they will be up for the task. Any harsh treatment from fans in the early going could rattle the Brazilians, and they themselves might leak goals.
Predicting this game is nearly impossible given the uncertainty in team selection and the degree to which these players will actually try, but regardless, I expect this game to be full of goals like most third place games are. I expect Willian to be particularly active today for Brazil, and he will score the opener so early, that it will leave many wondering where the Dutch’s motivation lies. However, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will score a first half brace on two poorly defended set pieces to give Netherlands the lead at halftime. When Brazil get booed off the field at half, Thiago Silva will give an impassioned speech to inspire his teammates. And Fred will score the equalizer near the 60th minute. However, against the run of play, Huntelaar will complete his hat trick late on and Brazil will leave losers, having been beaten by a side who don’t want to be there. It will end up Netherlands 3 Brazil 2.
But regardless of what Brazilian team shows up, this game should be fun for the neutral. If you like goals, this will be the match for you. Check back later for analysis, and enjoy watching the World Cup while you still can. Only two days left.