Every FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalist dreams of clasping their hands around the Trophy and raising it aloft, but only two teams can go on to contest the showpiece game. The defeated duo can, nonetheless, soften the blow by claiming the consolation prize in the match for third place. The passions roused by this play-off encounter may not compare with the Final itself, but the tournament’s penultimate fixture has often tended to be one of its most eventful down the years.
A total of 16 matches to decide who finishes in third place have been held since the birth of the FIFA World Cup, with no tie scheduled in 1930 and a group-format final round deciding the top-four standings in 1950. No fewer than 63 goals have been scored in those meetings, with an average of 3.9 per game, as teams playing with the pressure off have managed to turn on the style one last time.
Both sides have found the net in 12 of those matches and only three have ended in a 1-0 scoreline. Sweden sealed the biggest win by inflicting a 4-0 reverse on Bulgaria in 1994, but the most strikes in a single encounter came when France and West Germany shared nine goals in their quest for the consolation prize in 1958.
That game between France and West Germany in Gothenburg, Sweden, was particularly notable for the performance of France striker Just Fontaine, third on the list of all-time FIFA World Cup scorers. Fontaine hit four of his team’s six goals that day to raise his personal haul in the tournament to 13, still the record individual yield for a single FIFA World Cup.
In 1990, the match for third place proved decisive in the race for the adidas Golden Boot award, with Italy’s Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci plundering his sixth goal in the competition to earn his side victory over England and secure the individual scoring honour. Eight years later, Davor Suker did likewise, matching Toto’s tally to help Croatia down the Netherlands and claim third spot on their first ever FIFA World Cup finals appearance.
No player has ever registered a hat-trick in this fixture, but five have helped themselves to doubles, starting with Germany’s Ernst Lehner in 1934. Leonidas followed suit for Brazil just four years later, but it wasn't until Jean-Marc Ferreri’s two strikes for France in 1986 that anyone else was able to match their feat, with Turkey’s Ilhan Mansiz then joining the club in 2002 and Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger completing the quintet four years ago in Germany.
As semi-final regulars on the global stage, Germany have disputed more matches for third place than any other team. Saturday’s meeting with Uruguay will be their fifth overall, and Die Nationalmannschaft will be looking to claim their fourth win having lost on just one occasion. The encounter at Port Elizabeth Stadium will also be their second against La Celeste in the penultimate game following their 1-0 success in 1970.
France and Brazil share second place on the list with three appearances each, and they will be joined by Uruguay after the action this weekend. The South American side have yet to win in this fixture, with their narrow reverse 40 years ago preceded by a 3-1 loss to Austria in 1954.
Five other teams – Italy, Portugal, Poland, Austria and Sweden – have also competed for third place on two occasions, while England, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Chile, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Croatia, Turkey and Korea Republic boast one outing apiece.
The matches for third place in 1962, 1998 and 2002 were historic in that one of the sides in contention had never previously appeared in a FIFA World Cup. Chile not only began the trend on home soil in 1962 but they also started another by securing a podium finish via a 1-0 victory over Yugoslavia. That achievement was then repeated by newcomers Croatia courtesy of a 2-1 triumph against the Netherlands in 1998, and four years later competition debutants Turkey grabbed third by seeing off Korea Republic 3-2.
The third place play-off game at Korea/Japan 2002 was likewise memorable for being the first to feature an Asian team and the first in which the host nation lost, while it also featured the fastest goal in the history of the competition. Hakan Sukur buried the opener for Turkey with just 11 seconds on the clock.
Only two penalties have ever been awarded in this encounter, with Ernst Stojaspal converting the first for Austria against Uruguay in 1954 and Schillaci finding the target with the second for Italy in 1990.
There have been merely two own goals as well, Uruguay’s Luis Cruz breaking unfortunate new ground against Austria in 1954 and Portuguese defensive midfielder Petit experiencing similar misery against Germany in 2006.