The dreaded third place game. The ultimate “damned if you, damned if you don’t” contest in sports.
The third place game at a major soccer tournament is the gift you’d didn’t want, one that replaces the gift you want more than anything else. It is the second prom date choice. It is the 98 Degrees concert tickets to the ones for N’Sync; the Minute Maid, instead of ending up with “Simply Orange.”
The third place game is always deflating experience, even for a Cinderella team not expected to be among the last four in a tournament, like the South Korean men in their World Cup in 2002. But when your only goal is to win the tournament, or you lose your semifinal match in the most heartbreaking of fashion — when even Lord Voldermort would feel sad for you — the third place game is almost as cruel as Laura Bassett’s own-goal-seen-`round-the-world.
But for both Germany and England, the third place at this summer’s Women’s World Cup represents a chance at finding some solace from the dejection they will feel.
Germany head coach Silvia Neid could only be left frustrated and fuming during the press conference after her team’s 2-0 loss to the United States. It was yet another time where the Americans, sluggish and laborious to watch for most of the whole tournament, provided their absolute best against their “rivals.” It was the 12th straight time the Germans could not get a regulation time win over the Americans, going now 0-7-5 since their semifinal win in the 2003 World Cup in Portland. The clutch Célia Śaśic being psyched out by the unapologetic renegade Hope Solo was the perfect example of where the two teams stand mentally with each other at the moment.
Still, Neid was obviously frustrated by the two calls her team shamefully did not get. Thank the wonderful FIFA referring at this tournament for that. Julie Johnston’s “yellow that should have been a red” and Annike Krahn’s penalty foul that shouldn’t have been a penalty on Alex Morgan provided bitter pills the 51-year-old’s post-match disgust. Largely and unfortunately going under the radar, in the midst of rowdy American fan propaganda, is the fact that Germany missed the two playmakers its side needed to break down the impervious U.S. defense.
Dzsenifer Marozsan virtually wasn’t even on the field, only providing her team additional, limping support. A moment of individual miracle brilliance was never going to come from the star number 10, who had hyperextended her left ankle in the quarterfinals against France.
But long forgotten in this tournament’s story has been the absence of Nadine Keßler, who just happen to be the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year. Could you image the consternation and mentioning of “no luck for the U.S.” if Morgan or Carli Lloyd were out for this World Cup, like Kessler has been? Instead, the lack of Keßler attention makes it seem like she was a retired legend, like Birgit Prinz, and not the superstar who can unlock even the toughest of back lines.
Remarkably though, Germany does not come into the third place game as the most sullen side. Few could ever remember in both men’s and women’s World Cup history an ending as tragic as Bassett’s own goal to give Japan a shot at defending its title. The only own goal even close to being as heartbreaking to witness as the Notts Country centerback’s misfortune is when Colombia’s Andrés Escobar found the back of his own net at the 1994 World Cup against the U.S. However, that was highlighted more by the tragic murder that Escobar suffered when he returned back home.
A gutted Mark Sampson knows that his side outplayed the reigning champions, showcasing again that England maybe is a harder opponent for Japan than even the United States. He saw outstanding performances from his Lionesses again and got most of his tactics right for yet another game. It was part of an amazing transition for Sampson after his overly cautious and rather scared tactics versus France in the opener.
But all of that will pale into comparison if he is able to get his side up from its gut wrenching semifinal. No one expected England to go this far, but no one expected any game to end the way it did on Wednesday.
All third place games will have the same core characteristics, those of two teams wishing they were in the ultimate match, not the penultimate. But the dynamics of the two painful defeats, and the fact that the game is taking place in the lethargic atmosphere of Edmonton, makes it even more of an annoyance. Still, a lot is at stake still for both England and German.
The pride of being UEFA’s best representative will not be lost on both either team, with England keen on showing how far it has come its program and Germany intent on making it known that its spot atop Europe is not taken. A win against the mighty Die Nationalelf wouldn’t fully alleviate England’s semifinal pain, but it would provide more belief that it team is among the elite of the women’s game. Germany taking third place, meanwhile, would remind everyone that it will be hell bent on righting the wrongs of not winning Canada 2015 at next year’s Rio Olympics.
It’s not NYSNC, it’s not “Simply Orange” juice, and it’s not an XBOX 1080 gift (that is the future; don’t say you weren’t told). But third place is something that Germany and England will fight for. And thankfully for them, it’s something to make them feel that all their efforts were certainly not a month of nothing.