What's The Point Of The Third Place Play-Off?

What's The Point Of The Third Place Play-Off?
09:05, 08 Jun 2019

Often described as the most pointless game in history, the third place play-off makes an unwelcome return this weekend and the bad news is you’ll probably have to watch it if you’re an England fan.

A desperately poor showing against the Netherlands in Thursday’s Nations League semi-final means Gareth Southgate’s men will battle for the bronze against Switzerland. But why do we persist with a game where the teams involved would rather be anywhere else?

The "game’s gone” answer here is because it makes money and in the World Cup especially, it gives the competition the chance to squeeze out an extra game. It also provides a pleasing way to dish out prize money to competing nations in the model of events like athletics when there's a gold, silver and bronze tradition. Commercial broadcasters also like the game to generate more money from advertising when their nation’s involved.

Yet every World Cup has had this bridesmaid parade apart from in 1930 and 1950 and nobody can really explain those absences.   

Last year, England and Belgium had to play out a game which had all the intensity of a pre-packed salad having been beaten by Croatia and France respectively. And as in the World Cup, the players had to stay behind to stew in their defeat when really, all they want to do in jump on a plane and come home.    

Prior to last summer, England had only played in one third place play-off and that was in 1990 after a campaign dominated by Paul Gascoigne’s emergence on the global stage which ended, as we all know, in tears.

England beat Italy 1-0 in a game where a poor crowd in Turin barely managed to stay awake during a dull encounter.       

There looks to be no end in sight for this meaningless fixture but in a sport where silverware is so hard to come by, maybe this is game we shouldn't be so sniffy about.