Early Doors

Always the bridesmaid…

Early Doors

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The World Cup final is still a day away. By this time on Monday we will have a new world champion, and a whole four years to reflect upon their glory.

But, for the time being, let's forget about Spain versus Netherlands, Roja v Oranje, tiki taka versus total football. There will be plenty of fun to be had in Port Elizabeth this evening, when Germany face Uruguay in the third-place play-off.

The battle to avoid finishing fourth has always been the bridesmaid to the bride that is the following day's showpiece, but this is a good thing.

The bridesmaid, publicly reminded of falling desperately short yet again, will be eager to please, voraciously keen to make the most of their last little chink of spotlight. In other words, she puts out. Whereas, depending on the level of your involvement with the bride, at best you will have to keep saying how stunning it is even it is a bare-faced lie, and at worst may be locked into a draining, long-term commitment, the lustre of which may wear off as soon as the big fanfare has faded.

Which is all a laboured way of saying that the two defeated semi-finalists, freed from the constricting pressure of The Biggest Match Of Them All, can go out and enjoy themselves and do their best to finish with a flourish, while the final two teams have to battle nerves and the weight of expectation for days before feeling their way into the world's most-watched sporting event. 

OK, so no one really remembers who finishes third or fourth, but it is a fixture that usually provides more goals than the final and also regularly has a say in the destination of the Golden Boot.

Oh, it's proof you want, is it? Well here it is:

2006 play-off: Germany 3-1 Portugal

The host nation suffered disappointment at not making the final, but was basking in the glory of their team providing some exciting matches as well as a great tournament.

Bastian Schweinsteiger scored two beauties in Stuttgart that gave no sign he would one day morph into a world-class anchor man, while Luis Figo found himself benched for what would turn out to be his final appearance for Portugal, only to come on and set up Nuno Gomes's consolation goal.

2006 final: Italy 1-1 France (Italy win on pens)

A World Cup final that is remembered most for a head butt.

2002 play-off: Turkey 3-2 South Korea

Another host nation involved, and in their home country too. Hakan Sukur scored the fastest ever World Cup goal after just 11 seconds to finally grab some glory after an awful tournament, while Lee Eul-yong scored a great free-kick. Turkey finished their first World Cup in almost 50 years in third place.

2002 final: Brazil 2-0 Germany

Ronaldo's brace served as a timely and permanent reminder of his lethal brilliance, but the Germany side was not one set up to thrill.

1998 play-off: Croatia 2-1 Netherlands

'Surprise package' Croatia had been good for ages, but they gave emphatic proof of the class this generation possessed by reaching the last four. Robert Prosinecki scored a dazzling opener with a 360 degree turn inside the area that Arthur Numan on his backside before firing him. Bolo Zenden equalised when his surge forward was rewarded by his swerving strike beating Drazen Ladic, but the plaudits were all for Davor Suker's clinically drilled finish to seal third spot for his nascent country and the golden boot for his good self.

1998 final: France 3-0 Brazil

The French were the best team in the world at the time, but Ronaldo's pre-match turn clearly rattled Brazil, who barely put up a fight.

1994 play-off: Sweden 4-0 Bulgaria

This pairing may look as random as an FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Cardiff now, but both sides only lost their semis by the odd goal. However, the Swedes put the, er, Bulgs to the sword in front of 91,000 people. Tomas Brolin was in his pre-flab-sprout pomp as he scored one and set up another two. Kennet Andersson scored the final goal, but it wasn't enough for him to stop Hristo Stoichkov claiming the Golden Boot.

1994 final: Brazil 0-0 Italy (Brazil win on pens)

An absolute stinker of a final that will forever be remembered for that shot from behind of Roberto Baggio's ponytailed head bowed, having just missed the crucial penalty in the shootout. The fact that Il Divin Codino's career never fully recovered, robbing us all of more years enjoying him at his best, is enough reason to hate this match.

1990 play-off: Italy 2-1 England

Baggio opened the scoring in the closing stages after a rare mistake from Peter Shilton, before David Platt scored his third of the tournament. But Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci sealed his rightful place as the hero of the tournament by netting a dubious penalty five minutes from time to win the Golden Boot. But hey, at least England won the FIFA fair play award, right? Right?

1990 final: West Germany 1-0 Argentina

Two red cards for Argentina. Juergen Klinsmann's Oscar-winning theatrics. Andreas Brehme's winning penalty. And literally nothing else.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:  "There is a real chance. For the additional assistant referees the final decision will be at the IFAB in 2012, for the goal-line technology any time. At the March meeting the decision could be made." FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke reveals that the England squad is not the only place where swift changes could be made after this World Cup.

BOERMY ARMY TWEET OF THE DAY: "@EarlyBoers - thats Africa for you; my taxi driver was on Facebk the whole & when I got out he asked me for my FB address - gotta love us!" - SRTJones reveals that EB's driver reading his paper while on the freeway is not the only time South African's multi-task at the wheel.

INTER-SPECIES BATTLE OF THE DAY: Paul the psychic Octopus went for Spain. Mani the soothsaying Parakeet went for Netherlands. Who's right? There's only one way to find out... Oh, yeah, we will do on Sunday.

COMING UP: After that build-up, how can you even think of missing the third-place play-off that is Germany v Uruguay? What do you mean you're going out on a Saturday night? Get a life.

There's the Armchair Pundit with his own take on last night's action and what lies ahead, plenty of analysis from our select squad of experts and the steady drip feed of all the latest events from the World Cup news ticker.

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