World Cup: Is playing for third place really much of a consolation?

Dutch team isn't exactly thrilled about having to play one more World Cup game that isn't the championship

In North American sports, they are known as consolation games. The root word of consolation is console, which is defined as lessening someone's grief, sorrow or disappointment.

Not exactly a catchy way to promote a competition: Come watch two teams try to lessen their grief, sorrow or disappointment.

It is no mystery why third-place games in tournaments on this continent have become extinct on the elite level. Interest either waned or never much existed in the first place -- the only place for which most fans showed interest. The last NFL encounter, euphemistically called the Playoff Bowl, came in the 1969 season. The NCAA jettisoned its March Madness version after 1981.

Alas, the World Cup's lives on, a relic on the sports spectrum. Brazil and the Netherlands might do little more than go through the motions Saturday, but the don't-call-it-a-consolation game appears here to stay awhile. It means more ticket revenue and higher television rights fees for FIFA, and it bridges the schedule gap between the second semifinal on Wednesday and the championship match on Sunday.

Soccer officials with long memories can defend its continued existence on the 1994 attendance at the Rose Bowl: 91,500. Unless Brazilians have gone into hibernation to sleep off their team's loss to Germany, they should see to it that every seat is filled Saturday.

For its model, FIFA has pointed to Olympic-style events in which the game determines the bronze medalist.

As another justification, the lords of the sport can argue how the matches usually become crowd-pleasers, with a minimum of four goals scored as the norm. With Wednesday's 0-0 slogfest between Argentina and the Netherlands still a fresh memory, that might be the most persuasive endorsement for this year's game.

As the host team that must mind its manners, Brazil has kept any disparagement about the concept to itself. The Dutch have not held back.

"I think this match should never be played," said Coach Louis van Gaal, who is surely eager to move on to his next gig with Manchester United. "I've been saying this for 10 years."

Forward Arjen Robben alluded to the unsettling possibility of having a successful Cup run spoiled by closing with two defeats.

"Only one prize counts, and that is becoming world champion," he said. "A tournament where you've played so marvelously well, you could go home as a loser ... "

Gee, how could they not get excited about the chance to head home as the consoled?  

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