For adherents of wide-open, pop-a-shot soccer, Saturday's formalities involving Brazil and the Netherlands might offer the last satisfactory glimpse of
Third-place games tend to resemble friendlies, with fewer fouls to interrupt the fluidity of play. And with defensively leaning Argentina part of the finale against Germany, a grinding game is in the forecast for Sunday's championship match.
Whether the third-place game combatants can summon the motivation to approach their standard level of excellence is another matter. Both went through the usual stages of grief following their semifinal defeats. Then, after sleeping on it, they promised to give it the ol' college try.
The edge might swing to Brazil. It is more rested, having played a day earlier than the Dutch. Besides, the Brazilians did not exactly exert themselves in a 7-1 beatdown by Germany, while the Dutch were extended through extra time before losing on penalty kicks, 4-2.
Brazil welcomes back defender Thiago Silva, whose absence was increasingly conspicuous each time the Germans scored against the discombobulated back line. Silva's yellow-card suspension is over. The same cannot be said for the rehab of injured teammate Neymar, who will be sorely missed at the offensive end.
Also, the Brazilians might be playing for Coach "Big Phil" Scolari's job -- if they care. Scolari began his campaign for retention before the smoke from the semifinal loss had cleared, holding up a paper at the postgame news conference that broke down his record as national team coach.
Above all, Brazil might be driven to win back the hearts of its fans, many of whom reacted bitterly to the embarrassment against Germany. The Dutch carry less incentive, and there is no telling what lineup the unpredictable Coach Louis van Gaal will send out. He has deployed all but one of his 23 players, and dusting off third-string goalkeeper Michael Vorm for some minutes would not shock those who know him.
Van Gaal has tried to rally his troops around the goal of becoming the first Dutch team to wade through a World Cup without defeat in regulation or overtime play.