World Cup third-place play-offs
The inaugural World Cup in 1930 didn’t feature a third-place play-off, but the fixture was added to the schedule four years later when FIFA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that what the two beaten semi-finalists really needed was another 90 minutes of football (plus extra time and penalties if required), rather than the first flight home followed by a two-week break in the Bahamas.
Ahead of England’s meeting with Belgium on Saturday, here are the 10 best third-place play-offs from World Cups gone by.
10. Portugal 2-1 Soviet Union (1966)
Hungary 1954, Holland 1974 and Brazil 1982 are widely regarded as the three best teams not to win the World Cup, but the Portugal side of 1966 weren’t far behind. Otto Gloria’s men progressed from a tough group containing Brazil, Bulgaria and Hungary with maximum points, before a four-goal haul from Eusebio helped them avoid embarrassment against North Korea in the quarters, Portugal coming from 3-0 down to win 5-3.
A semi-final against England proved a step too far as the hosts ran out 2-1 winners, but Portugal bounced back to win the third-place play-off. Eduard Malofeyev’s effort levelled the scores after Eusebio’s penalty had broken the deadlock in the 12th minute, but Jose Torres struck late on to settle the match in the Selecao’s favour.
9. Sweden 4-0 Bulgaria (1994)
Two surprise packages met in the third-place play-off in 1994, with a first-half rout earning Sweden a thumping victory over Bulgaria. The Swedes had beaten Saudi Arabia and Romania to reach the last four, where they were narrowly overcome by Brazil; Bulgaria, meanwhile, had enjoyed a more thrilling passage to the semi-finals, stunning both Argentina and Germany before bowing out to Italy.
Those impressive wins meant Hristo Stoichkov and co. were favourites to finish third, but a 40-minute Swedish blitz put paid to that ambition. Tomas Brolin, Hakan Mild, Henrik Larsson and Kennet Andersson all scored before the interval to secure third place for Tommy Svensson’s side.
8. Italy 2-1 England (1990)
England’s only other taste of the third-place play-off came in 1990, when a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat by West Germany denied Bobby Robson’s side a place in the final. The hosts had also fallen short from 12 yards in the last four, with Napoli forward Diego Maradona netting the decisive spot-kick in Naples to send Argentina through at Italy’s expense.
Over 51,000 fans at Bari’s Stadio San Nicola were treated to a slow-burner, but the game belatedly exploded into life with 20 minutes left to play. Roberto Baggio put Italy in front after a mistake from Peter Shilton, before David Platt’s header brought England back on level terms.
An additional 30 minutes looked likely at that point, but there was still time for Golden Boot winner Toto Schillacito score his sixth goal of the tournament from the penalty spot.
7. Germany 3-2 Austria (1934)
The first ever World Cup third-place play-off was a five-goal thriller, Germany edging out Austria (pictured) in Naples. The Mannschaft’s tournament had got off to a flying start with a 5-2 defeat of Belgium, before Karl Hohmann’s brace saw off Sweden in the quarter-finals.
A hat-trick from Czech striker Oldrich Nejedly denied them a place in the final, though, with Austria – who had overcome France and Hungary to reach the last four – also missing out on the showpiece after a 1-0 loss to Italy.
Ernst Lehner put Germany ahead within seconds of kick-off, before Edmund Conen doubled their advantage in the 27th minute. Johann Horvath hit back immediately for Austria, but Lehner netted again to restore the Germans’ two-goal lead before half-time. Karl Sesta’s strike made it 3-2 before the hour mark, but Austria couldn’t find an equaliser.
6. Netherlands 1-2 Croatia (1998)
Croatia exceeded expectations on their World Cup debut in 1998, reaching the semi-finals in France and then beating the Netherlands in the third-place play-off. The Vatreni finished second behind Argentina in their group and then saw off Romania (1-0) and Germany (3-0) to reach the semi-finals, where Davor Suker’s opener was cancelled out and overturned by an unlikely brace from France defender Lilian Thuram.
The Netherlands had also impressed in the knockout phase, beating Yugoslavia and Argentina to set up a last-four clash with Brazil, who advanced to the final on penalties. Bolo Zenden drew the Dutch level in the third-place play-off after Robert Prosinecki’s early strike, before Suker struck his sixth goal of the World Cup to win the match for Croatia.
5. South Korea 2-3 Turkey (2002)
Lady Luck, it’s fair to say, was supporting South Korea at Asia’s first World Cup. Controversial refereeing helped Guus Hiddink’s side past both Italy and Spain in the first two knockout rounds, before the Taeguk Warriors were finally seen off by Germany in the semis.
It was Turkey, equally unfancied before the tournament, who edged the third-place play-off in Daegu. Hakan Sukur opened the scoring after 10.8 seconds – still the fastest goal in World Cup history – before Lee Eul-yong’s free-kick levelled things up in the ninth minute.
Ilhan Mansiz, taking advantage of some Korean defending which would have left the Keystone Cops shaking their heads in embarrassment, scored twice before half-time, with Song Chong-gug’s stoppage-time effort nothing more than a consolation.
4. Poland 3-2 France (1982)
France were involved in an all-time classic World Cup semi-final in 1982, losing on penalties to West Germany after an exhilirating 3-3 draw. Poland’s last-four clash was rather more low key, a routine 2-0 defeat by Italy, and perhaps that helped them get the better of a jaded Les Bleus side in the third-place play-off.
The French drew first blood in Alicante, Rene Gerard finding the corner with a drive from 25 yards, but quick-fire strikes from Polish pair Andrzej Szarmach and Stefan Majewski turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead before half-time.
Janusz Kupcewicz’s free-kick further increased their advantage after the restart; Alain Couriol halved the deficit with 18 minutes left to play, but the Eagles held on for the victory.
3. Uruguay 2-3 Germany (2010)
Uruguay’s run to the last four in South America marked the start of their revival under Oscar Washington Tabarez, who led his nation to the Copa America title in 2011 and the knockout stage of two more World Cups in 2014 and 2018.
This was also a coming-of-age tournament for the likes of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng, Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller, prominent members of a new German generation who would go on to lift the trophy in Brazil.
Muller broke the deadlock in the 19th minute, but Edinson Cavani levelled the scores before the half-hour mark and Diego Forlan gave Uruguay the lead after the break. Marcell Janssen restored parity within five minutes, before Khedira netted a late winner for the Mannschaft.
2. France 6-3 West Germany (1958)
No World Cup patch has been as purple as Just Fontaine’s in 1958. The striker introduced ball to net six times in the group stage, twice in the 4-0 victory over Northern Ireland in the quarter-finals and once more in the 5-2 loss to Brazil in the semis, giving him a remarkable return of nine goals in five games.
The Morocco-born frontman wasn’t ready to settle for single figures, though. His four strikes in the third-place play-off meant he finished an astonishing seven goals clear of second-placed Pele and Helmut Rahn in the race for the top scorer accolade, with Fontaine’s clinical finishing ultimately the difference between France and West Germany.
1. Belgium 2-4 France (1986)
France’s 1-0 defeat of Belgium on Tuesday was a predictably tense and cagey affair, but no such caution was on display once the chance of a place in the final had been taken away from both of these nations in 1986. The result was a gloriously open encounter between two attacking sides, with Jean Tigana, Jean-Pierre Papin, Enzo Scifo and Jan Ceulemans all strutting their stuff under the Mexican sun.
Belgium had conceded 11 goals in their six previous games, so it was no surprise when their backline was breached twice in the first half of the play-off, with France holding a 2-1 lead at the interval. Nico Claesen equalised in the 73rd minute, but extra-time goals from Bernard Genghini and Manuel Amoros earned Les Bleus a place on the podium.
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