A confession: I’ve never had any time for the third/fourth play-off game. The players don’t want to be a part of it, unless they’re in the running for the Golden Boot, and management surely either wants to be back home, receiving plaudits for getting their side to the last four or sunning themselves on a beach, licking their wounds after exiting at the cruelest stage of them all. My team, England, got there in 1990 and apart from the game ending in a 2-1 defeat to Italy, with our goal scored by David Platt, I remember nothing else. I even interviewed Gary Lineker earlier Saturday, who played in the game, and neither of us wanted to talk about it. But you know what? The Uruguay vs Germany game was pretty good! In fact, it might just have been the game of the tournament!
At least you’re guaranteed goals: the fixture has never ended in a 0-0 draw. What’s more, Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez clearly didn’t read the memo about what this fixture (doesn’t) mean, saying in advance that his side would, “fight to the death.” Perhaps he had rather read Tony’s opening to his recent post about the World Cup, “often being the continuation of war by other means.” And within half an hour, both sides had set their sights by scoring. The Germans took the lead through the returning from suspension Thomas Mueller, who neatly notched after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s 30-yard drive was blocked by Fernando Muslera. Uruguay equalized thanks to Schweinsteiger: in what must have been his first mistake of the tournament, he was dispossessed by Diego Perez and the pantomime villain of this World Cup, the also returning from suspension Luis Suarez, put in Edinson Cavani, who made no mistake against Germany’s reserve goalkeeper, Hans-Joerg Butt. Game well and truly on.
Uruguay came out of the blocks quickest after the break and the by now prolific Diego Forlan, who is having a mini goal of the tournament competition all of his own, gave his side the lead with a sumptuous volley that he cannily bounced into the ground before it found the net. Suarez provided that assist too, which makes you wonder if Uruguay would have made the final had he played against the Netherlands (let’s just overlook the fact that Ghana would have scored a winner had Suarez not handled on the line!)
But back came Germany, and for the last time in this World Cup, one can write the words, “never write them off.” Five minutes later, Marcell Jansen had an easy task heading into the net after Muslera flapped at another cross. It’s fair to surmise that his mind was on the beach.
And by then, the football on show had taken on the feel of what’s seen on the beach. Back and forth the sides came with the defensive shackles well and truly removed: Ozil, Suarez, Cacau, Schweinsteiger and Kiessling all went close. The force was now with the Germans and Sami Khedira looped a header into the corner of the net with just under 10 minutes to play. They even had chances to seal the game but, incredibly, there would be drama to the end as Uruguay won a free kick on the edge of the box with what would then prove to be the last kick of the game. Forlan’s stunning strike smacked the bar and the referee brought to an end a thoroughly entertaining game from two sides who have given so much to so many this past month. Some small comfort for Uruguay, who must suffer another 3-2 reverse. Life is indeed a beach.
What’s more, had Forlan scored at the death, he would now be out on his own in the race for the Golden Boot. But he remains on five, and, because he only has one assist, is actually in fourth place (thanks for the crazy rules, FIFA!), behind Mueller, Spain’s David Villa and Holland’s Wesley Sneijder, who can settle both the World Cup and Golden Boot on Sunday. But Saturday belonged to Germany, who finished third in 2006 and emulated the achievement in South Africa. As they collected their bronze medals, you’re forced to reflect on the remark once made by friend of the blog, Gary Lineker, that, “in the end Germany always wins.” Come the next World Cup in Brazil 2014, they might just go one further and win it all.