For many years, attempts have been made to just do away with the third place game in the World Cup. The players agree they come to the World Cup to win. Anything less, pun intended, is no "consolation." Teams vary as to how they have approached the game in the past. Some have even managed to let loose and have fun. Let's look at this year's contenders and how they approached the game.
Brazil likely wanted to just get it over with. But they had something to prove. To their fans, to themselves, to their country. They saw in this final game an opportunity to prove they were more than the sum total of the goals against them in the semifinal against eventual champions Germany.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, apparently didn't want the hassle of changing their return plane tickets home, so reluctantly agreed to stay and play the game they supposedly love one...more...time. Something like that.
I'm sure the fans who spent the money and took the time to travel great distances to wear the orange (and I do mean orange--see under, "whoa, that is a bright color! We will be seen!) or to "root, root, root" for the home team, appreciate the players' acquiescence. But don't they deserve more? What is it all really about, anyway?
Is it about young men who have loved the game for their lifetimes and dedicated themselves to playing and perfecting their craft? Men who would do anything just to be out there playing?
Is it about the fans, people who may have their differences at home, but who can come together in harmony to share whatever comes as one collective entity, cheering, celebrating, jeering or consoling?
As soon as you hear comments from the players and coaches voicing their disdain for anything less than victory, it makes you wonder. It makes me wonder where along the line the values we try to instill in our young athletes have gone off track. "Winning isn't everything" has become, as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal so bluntly put it, "There's only one prize, one award that counts, and that is becoming champion. This match should never be played. Teams don't want to play for third place." Dutch forward, Arjen Robben added, of the possibility of a third place medal, "They can keep it."
It is disappointing to know now that the team who had some real emotion in playing, some motivation, was left with nothing. Brazil wanted to be professionals, to show their character. It didn't manifest in a win, but I give them credit for their attitude and drive. In the face of semifinal humiliation in front of their home crowd, they took their consolation game as a challenge and opportunity. It will sting for a while, but hopefully they can find a way to be proud of themselves.
These teams on the world stage may not realize it, but they shoulder the burden of being an example to millions of young soccer players around the world. The way they play, the laughable dramatics and showmanship, the incredible skill and athleticism, all are being scrutinized and internalized by these young fans.
As heartwarming as Brazil's David Luiz's show of good sportsmanship toward Colombian player James Rodriguez was, I have to wonder why it stood out so much--I guess these types of moments are few and far between, which is unfortunate. But that image will stay with the next generations and that is the real heartwarming part.
Thank you, Netherlands, for finding it in your hearts to play one last game. Next time, be bigger than your egos. Think about who might be watching, who you can inspire with your play, your attitude, regardless of the outcome. Second loser? Only if you think it so.
Get 'em next time Brazil. Your fans will be behind you as long as you stay true to why you play and how you can inspire.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
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