It has always seemed cruel to me that the World Cup had a third-place game. The teams that featured in the game had one foot in the final and had the other kicked from beneath them, then had to trot out again for one more game. There are technically four teams left in this World Cup–Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Holland–but only two still have a shot at winning it all.
No third-place game in the long history of the World Cup will feel more sad, more hollow than this Saturday’s game when Brazil, the host nation,which has been remarkable all tournament for their jubilation up until their 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals. Brazilian fans went from parting to sobbing in the span of minutes as their national team, their pride and joy, slipped further and further behind. Without their star man, Neymar, lost to a fractured vertebra, the Brazilians limp into this game instead of samba, as they have all tournament. All the cheers, all the joy, all the national pride that defined the hosts throughout the month-long tournament has been doused.
In that game on Saturday, they face Holland. Holland has played as well at times as anyone during the World Cup and there’s a very real chance that Brazil could be looking at fourth place when it’s all said and done. In perspective, fourth place isn’t all that bad. Some of the world’s top soccer teams–Spain, Italy–were unceremoniously dumped out at the end of the group stages. But Brazil was never here for fourth. This World Cup was supposed to be theirs, in their eyes. Anything short of lifting the trophy on Sunday is a disappointment for them.
Their frustrations could be compounded on Sunday. Argentina faces Germany in the final. Argentina doesn’t like Brazil and Brazil doesn’t like Argentina. They’ve long been the established soccer powers in South America, with Brazil winning five World Cups and Argentina winning two.
When Neymar went down with his back injury, Argentinian fans waved around a plastic spinal column and sang. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVk8SR1lhsE) This is what the World Cup means to them. This is the depth of the rivalry. For Argentina to win the World Cup on Brazilian soil would be a national heartache.
Brazil will have to hope that Germany can beat Argentina. They’re probably the favorites heading into this game. Nobody has been as impressive throughout this tournament as Germany has.
(After that 7-1 win over Brazil, the U.S. 1-0 loss to Germany suddenly doesn’t look so bad.)
Come Sunday, all the teams left will have their place, one through four. In a tournament that comes around only once every four years, I suppose it’s only right to be thorough and make sure the last four standing all know their place, to go down into the records of the World Cup.
It all seems so harsh for Brazil.
Many have said that Brazil didn’t deserve this.
But that’s how these tournaments shake out sometimes. Spain, the most dominant team over the last eight years or so, didn’t deserve to have their golden generation of players leave the World Cup so soon. Costa Rica didn’t deserve to make it into the quarterfinals and at the same time, didn’t deserve to lose to Holland in penalty kicks. Nor did Holland deserve to lose to Costa Rica.
But it’s not about what anyone deserves. The World Cup is about the moments. It’s Robin Van Persie’s flying header against Spain. It’s the Luis Suarez bite. It’s David Villa crying after being taken off in what’s likely to be his last competitive match against Australia. It’s Tim Howard fighting off Belgium singlehandedly until he couldn’t anymore, becoming a national hero in the process.
Watch on Saturday and Sunday (definitely watch on Sunday) for those moments. Those moments are what the world will remember forever.