You just lost in the semifinals at a World Cup. You and your teammates are understandably heartbroken, endlessly replaying the possibilities of what might have been.
After a monthlong stay ends in devastating defeat, you’re looking forward to going back home to see family and friends. Instead, you have to stay and play in the third-place playoff.
To many, it seems a largely pointless exercise. Does it really matter which team comes third or fourth? The answer largely comes down to money.
Naturally, FIFA is eager to host an extra contest. The revenue from an additional broadcast’s worth of sponsorships cannot be ignored.
And for the teams, there is some glory to be had. The winner gets a bronze medal and bragging rights.
But if coming third instead of fourth isn’t enough incentive, there’s a bottom-line consideration for them, too. The winner of the match gets a slightly larger cash prize for its efforts — $27 million instead of $25 million.
All but two World Cup tournaments in history — the first edition in 1930 and then again in 1950 — have featured third-place playoffs.
On the field, the importance of the playoffs depends entirely on the teams contesting them. Four years ago in Russia, England played as if it couldn’t have cared less. Meanwhile, Croatia in 1998 and Uruguay in 2010 (though it ultimately lost to Germany) showed much more effort.
This year, Morocco and Croatia each seem eager to continue asserting their presence on the sport’s biggest stage. They’ll have a chance to secure that bronze medal and $2 million extra for their federations.