'Small final' still meaningful for Uruguay, Germany
It's one of the hardest games in soccer to prepare for.
Just days after the bitter disappointment of missing out on the World Cup final, players from Uruguay and Germany have to lift themselves one final time in today's third-place match at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Fans don't generally remember the team that finishes third at a World Cup, but it gives the Uruguayans and Germans a chance to leave South Africa with a victory and something to build on.
Uruguay brought back memories of previous glory in 1930 and 1950 with its run to the final. Yet, the Celeste left Cape Town devastated after the 3-2 semifinal loss to the Netherlands, according to striker Diego Forlan. Pride with Uruguay's best World Cup showing in 40 years - the country last made the semifinals in 1970 - is mixed with feelings of what might have been.
"We were so close to a World Cup final and we have missed a great chance," Forlan said.
"We've had a good tournament and it's been a fine World Cup for us," added midfielder Egidio Arevalo, "but we're still gutted."
For Germany, its 1-0 defeat by Spain was possibly even more painful considering its performances leading up to the game. The Germans led the tournament with 13 goals and routed old rivals England and Argentina on their way to the semifinals.
But they now have lost in the semis in successive World Cups, as well as the final in 2002 and the final of the 2008 European Championship.
"It's a shame, we're sad, and we're all disappointed," coach Joachim Loew said. "It's not worked out the way we wanted it."
With its youngest team in years, three-time champion Germany looked primed to win its first world title in 20 years. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany's best player in the tournament, epitomized the despair after Germany was eliminated when he sunk to his knees at the final whistle. Schweinsteiger was inconsolable, and captain Philipp Lahm was in tears.
Striker Miroslav Klose, probably in his last World Cup, remained one goal shy of Brazilian striker Ronaldo's 15-goal World Cup record. He wasn't thinking about individual achievements.
"I guess I'll never win the World Cup title," said Klose, 32, who lost the 2002 final to Brazil and was on the losing side against Italy in the 2006 semifinals in Germany. "I want to win against Uruguay, even if I don't score."
Assistant coach Hansi Flick said Thursday that Klose has a back problem and could miss today's match.
Lahm said the team still remembers the third-place match against Portugal in 2006 and the enthusiastic reception the home fans gave the players after the 3-1 win. "We saw 4 years ago how great this game can be and we want to go home with a win and with a good feeling," Lahm said.
Loew will have his management skills challenged as he tries to pick up his players for one more game. He said Germany would take the match "quite seriously," even if some changes in the lineup are expected.
"Third place also means something," Flick said. "It would be important to win the 'small final.' "
Like Klose, Forlan, Uruguay's best attacker, could get a boost in the match by reaching a personal milestone. Forlan, who scored Uruguay's equalizer against the Dutch in the first half, has four goals, one short of leading scorers David Villa of Spain and the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder.
But Forlan was replaced in the 84th minute during the semifinal with a strained right thigh. He hopes to be fit today as he looks to give the country its best World Cup performance since its second title 60 years ago.
"I want to play for third place because even that would be great for everyone. Then I hope to have a big holiday because I am really tired," Forlan said.
* UEFA president Michel Platini remained in a Johannesburg hospital overnight after collapsing in a restaurant yesterday. Initial tests showed nothing serious for the head of European soccer's governing body.
* Dutch players Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez had money and documents stolen from their hotel room before the semifinal game with Uruguay.