There are a handful of goals that teams have with major tournaments. For some, qualifying is a big deal. Others want to make it out of the group stage and a handful aim to win the whole thing.
None dream of third place. And yet some tournaments have third place matches.
It makes no sense to have the match. Nobody dreams of finishing third and nobody really wants to play in the match.
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"This match should never be played," Louis can Gaal said after the Netherlands lost in the semifinals at the 2014 World Cup and were relegated to the third place match. "I've been saying that for 10 years. It's unfair."
It's not as if van Gaal is alone in hating the third place match.
"I'm not sure what sense these third-place games have," Michael Bradley said after the United States lost in the Copa America Centenario semifinals.
The Olympics have floated the idea in peoples' minds that maybe third place matters. After all, winning Olympic bronze is an accomplishment, but that doesn't apply to all sports and it certainly doesn't apply to soccer. Nobody aims to finish third.
There's a reason why prior to Copa America Centenario, Jurgen Klinsmann said that the Americans' goal was to make the semifinals. He didn't say he wanted to finish third, or even fourth. Because accomplishments in the sport are measured by how far a team goes and the semifinals are another round closer to the final.
And that hits at the heart of the problem with third place matches: it has no bearing on who might win the tournament. Every match in a competition should be towards crowning a champion and every match does -- except for the third place match. Neither of the teams in there can win the title or affect it in any way. It's really a glorified friendly.
The defense of the match is that it's more soccer, which is almost always a good thing, but it comes at the end of a long tournament when players are tired. They want to go home and rest before their club seasons start up again. Their bodies don't need to be put through another match.
It's also bad soccer. The best case scenario is that it's an open, entertaining goal fest, which we have seen before. But those matches are a product of teams not taking it seriously, putting in little game-planning, playing second stringers and eschewing defense altogether. It's hardly something to be celebrated.
It also can ruin an otherwise great tournament for teams, too. Because while making the semifinals is often cause of celebration, even if losing there can be heartbreaking, it's hard to go home happy if you've lost the last two matches you've played.
"The worst thing is I believe that, chances are, you lose twice in a row and a tournament where you've played so marvelously well you'll leave as a loser after losing the last two matches," van Gaal added in his hatred of the third place match.
There is money to be made from a third place matches. Fans buy tickets, sponsors get to throw their names on more things and TV networks get to broadcast one more match. But in tournaments with upwards of 30, 40, 50 or even 60 matches, is one more really necessary to cash one more check?
When teams crash out of a tournament, they're allowed to go home. They can celebrate their accomplishments or wallow in how they've fallen short. Their players can rest their bodies and spend time with their families while, back in the host country, everyone continues on trying to crown a champion. That is unless you're in the third place match.
If you lose in the semifinals you have to stick around and tax your bodies to play in a match that nobody wants to be in and means nothing. It doesn't make much sense to keep playing these things, so let's no. Let the third place match disappear, please.
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