Some sage advice for all the teams in this year’s World Cup: don’t go all out in that third place play-off game
Holland’s fall from grace as a top tier international side was complete when, just two years after an embarrassing 3-2 home defeat to Czech Republic (complete with comedy Robin van Persie own goal, below) confirmed their failure to qualify for the 2016 European Championships, they missed out on the 2018 World Cup as well.
A 2-0 win against Sweden in their final match - who pipped them to second place in a group containing France - who qualified in top spot - Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Belarus, was not enough to lift them above third place, continuing a shocking run of form since their triumphant run to third place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Fans and pundits alike have all expressed their shock at the fall from grace of one of the most iconic nations in football history - the team of Cruyff, van Basten, Kluivert, Robben and so many more.
But it turns out that it wasn’t altogether unexpected.
We all remember Italy’s triumph over Bobby Robson’s England in 1990; Sweden’s glorious 4-0 win over Bulgaria in USA ‘94; Croatia’s excellent third place at France ‘98 and Turkey’s unlikely ‘bronze’ medal in the unpredictable tournament that was Japan & South Korea in 2002.
What we might forget is that they all immediately failed to qualify for the European Championships that followed.
Going further back, 1982 third-placers Poland and 1986 bronze-medallists France also followed a triumphant tournament with a dismal qualification blunder in the ensuing Euros.
In addition, France didn’t make it to Italia ‘90, Sweden failed to qualify for the subsequent 1998 World Cup in France and Turkey repeated the feat for the 2006 Germany World Cup.
It’s a truly amazing run of results.
However, naturally, there is one team that bucked the trend.
Yes, you guessed it, the Germans.
After sealing third place in both 2006 and 2010, they eased to qualification for both ensuing Euros, making it to the final of Austria-Switzerland 2008 and the semi-finals of Poland-Ukraine 2012.
So the moral of the story is, if you reach the World Cup semi-final and lose - for God’s sake take it easy in that third/fourth place play-off - it’s simply not worth it.