Stuck in Russia
France and Croatia play Sunday for the World Cup. Croatia is the second smallest country to ever contest a World Cup championship match. The former Yugoslav state has a population of 4.1 million, equivalent to that of Oregon.
The only smaller country to play in a World Cup final was Uruguay, which currently has a population of 3.45 million, a little less than Connecticut. However, Uruguay had much less population when it won the first World Cup in 1930 and defeated Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in what turned out to be the deciding match in the 1950 tournament.
It should be noted the current format of a 16-team, four-stage knockout tournament following group play was not formally adopted until 1986. There were numerous different formats tried by FIFA, including a double group stage format in 1974, ’78 and ’82. Only in ’82 did the top two finishers in each group at the second group stage play in a knockout tournament; in ’74 and ’78, the two teams which won their respective groups in the second group stage played for the championship, while the second placed teams in each of the second round groups played for third.
Belgium and England, the teams which lost to France and Croatia, respectively, have not been able to depart Russia since their semifinal heartbreak.
Thank you, FIFA.
The world’s premier sporting event, at least for team sports, still insists on a third place match. I don’t know how much motivation Belgium and England could possibly have after such heartbreak, but FIFA is forcing them to convene tomorrow morning (at least in the United States) on the pitch in St. Petersburg.
What is the use of a third place match? NOTHING. UEFA has eliminated the useless third place matches in its Champions League and Europa League competitions and at the UEFA Cup, held every four years between national sides to determine the continent’s best.
Why can’t FIFA just let the losing semifinal teams go home, lick their wounds and spend the weekend with their families after being away for so long?
Apparently, it’s money.
FIFA will pay the winner of the third place match a prize pool of 20.5 million Euros ($24 million USD), compared to 18.8 million Euros ($22 million) for the loser of the third place match. Why not just give each team losing in the semifinals the same pot and let them go home?
If FIFA insists on a match the day before the final, why not let the host nation play a semifinal (or quarterfinal) loser? That would be a guaranteed sellout and a great way for the host nation to thank their loyal fans and football federation for hosting the world’s largest sporting event.
I would like to see a nation relegated to the third place match just not show up, but I’m sure FIFA would fine that nation a great deal and may not allow it to participate in the next World Cup, so it’s a form of blackmail. Just the same, I would love to see a Kansas high school basketball team tell the Kansas State High School Activities Association to take a hike and not show up for a third place game in a state tournament.
I can dream, but I’m also realistic here, so on we go with the meaningless games, games which many probably would rather not play.
Even worse, if the third place match tomorrow is level after normal time, there will be extra time, and then the infamous shootout if it is still tied after extra time. Yawn. If the third place match is going to be played, it should be limited to 90 minutes. If it ends in a draw, so be it. Find another way to determine who gets the third place money (overall record, goal differential, what have you), but going more than 90 minutes is cruel to two teams who came so close to playing on the grandest stage in team sports but failed.
It’s late. Not that late, but late for me since Crista told me to start going to bed at an earlier hour.