Third place playoff
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The third place playoff, bronze medal game or consolation game is a single match that is included in many sporting knockout tournaments to decide which competitor or team will be credited with finishing third and fourth. The teams that compete in the third place playoff game are usually the two losing semi-finalists in a particular knockout tournament. Many tournaments use the third place playoff to determine who wins the bronze medal. In tournaments that do not award medals, a third place playoff is a classification match that serves little more as a consolation to the losing semi-finalists.
Third place playoffs are subject to debate. Many sports tournaments do not even have a third place playoff due to a lack of interest. It has been criticised by some who feel that the match serves little purpose, but others see this game as an occasion for the losing semi-finalists to salvage some pride. How seriously the competitors or teams take a third place playoff may be also mixed: a heavily-favoured team that lost in an upset in the semi-final round may not have as much incentive to win as would a "Cinderella" team who was not expected to advance that far.
Most sports using a knockout format in the Olympic Games have a third place game to determine who wins the bronze medal, with the exception being boxing which awards two bronze medals (judo, taekwondo, and wrestling, which also award two bronze medals, both feature two bronze medal matches, between the losing semi-finalists and the winners of the repechage). As the difference between a bronze medal and no medal is quite significant, competitors still take this game seriously.
IRB Rugby World Cup
The Rugby World Cup used to give automatic qualification to all teams in the top three of the ongoing tournament to the one that would follow it four years later thus making the third place playoff game important, but this was later scrapped after the 1999 edition of the tournament allowing teams outside the top three to automatically qualify depending on their IRB co-efficient in the rankings.
FIFA World Cup and other Association Football tournaments
The 1980 edition was the last UEFA European Football Championship to have a third place match. That was one of the few third place football matches ever to be decided by a penalty shootout, where Czechoslovakia defeated hosts Italy 9-8.
The FIFA World Cup features a third place playoff, usually on the day before the final. It is often there to provide a spectacle as there is often a gap of a few days between the semi-finals and the final. The third place playoff is considered a lower-priority match to organizers, as it is frequently scheduled in one of the smaller stadia; the largest stadium (usually located in the host nation's capital city) is reserved for the final, while the semi-finals occupy the second and third-largest stadia. However, the third place match in the 1994 World Cup did use the Rose Bowl stadium, the same venue that would later host the tournament final, setting a record attendance of 91,500 for a third place playoff in FIFA World Cup history.
The third-place match in the FIFA Women's World Cup has been somewhat more important to the organizers—the 1999, 2003, and 2007 matches were all held in the same stadium as the final. In fact, the 1999 and 2007 third-place matches were both held as the first half of a doubleheader that culminated in the final. The 2011 third-place match returned to the more traditional scheduling of the day before the final in a different stadium. Notably, the 1999 third-place match was the curtain-raiser to the most-attended women's sporting event in history, the 1999 final also held in the Rose Bowl.
The third place match is generally a high-scoring affair, as no men's match has seen fewer than three goals scored since Poland's 1-0 win over Brazil in 1974, while all bronze-medal games since 1994 (except for 1998) have seen four goals or more. For tournament top scorers, the third place match's tendency of attacking football is a great opportunity to win the Golden Shoe, with players such as Salvatore Schillaci (1990), Davor Šuker (1998), and Thomas Müller (2010) getting the goal they needed to take sole possession of the lead. The FIFA Women's World Cup has had only six editions to date, therefore creating less opportunity for a pattern to form. However, two of the third-place games in that competition have seen fewer than three goals. In 1995, the USA defeated China 2–0. In 1999, the third-place match between Brazil and Norway ended in a scoreless draw and penalty shootout (won by Brazil), as did the final between the USA and China (won by the USA).
How seriously the competing teams take this match is subject to debate. Certain teams, especially ones which had been expected to reach the final, will rest some of their starters to allow some of their reserve team players to participate in a World Cup game, such as goalkeeper Germany's Hans-Jörg Butt who received his only competitive international appearance. By contrast, teams that are not expected to get this far usually take this match seriously, as third place can be a historical achievement. In the 1994 World Cup, the Sweden national team branded the game as "the bronze match" and after victory they landed at Arlanda with a fighter escort and were then paraded through the streets of Stockholm to millions live on national TV. Another example of a high profile third place match was in 1998, when the recently established Croatian football team upset the Netherlands.
If the host nation is involved in the third place match, the team generally uses the match to thank the support of their fans (such as the South Korean football team in 2002, and the German football team in 2006. German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who had been a reserve to Jens Lehmann during the 2006 tournament, was allowed to retire in the third place playoff by then manager Jürgen Klinsmann. Germany and Portugal fielded strong lineups in that match, after both were narrowly eliminated in their respective semi-finals (Germany and Italy nearly went to a penalty shootout, while Portugal was defeated by the lower-ranked France). For Brazil, the dismal 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in the third place match, along with the 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany, led to coach Luiz Felipe Scolari being dismissed. For the Dutch, this was their first bronze medal in the FIFA World Cup, and also the first time they concluded a major international tournament undefeated.
Germany currently holds the most third place finishes in the (men's) World Cup, with three, their most recent in 2010. The U.S. has the most third-place finishes in the Women's World Cup, with three; they have never finished outside the top three.
Defunct third place playoff games
Many sports tournaments do not have a third place playoff, mostly due to a lack of interest from the competitors and also from the fans. Two of the most celebrated knockout tournaments had featured the third place game for a period of time — the FA Cup Third-fourth place matches (1970–1974) and the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship (1946–1981). For most of its years, the NCAA consolation game held interest because it usually featured two nationally ranked teams in which only a few teams qualified for the tournament. However, as the field expanded beyond 32 teams, the game lost significance. In addition, eliminating the game allowed the losing teams to return home rather than remaining in the Final Four city for an additional two days to play a game many believed was irrelevant. Relevancy aside, others supported the game for competitive reasons because it typically featured a match between two of the best college teams in the nation.
The National Football League had a consolation game, the Playoff Bowl, from 1960 to 1969, which pitted the second-place team in each of the two conferences (based on regular season record from 1960 to 1966) against each other. It was abandoned in favor of the current playoff structure with the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.