Only four games to go now in the 2006 world cup. Yup, you read that right, four. "Wait," we hear you cry, " two semi-finals and a final!" Well, you may be surprised to hear that the world cup, in common with lots of Olympic events, still retains the gloriously anachronistic "3rd Place Final". Now, while we realise that after a month of concentrated footy only the most single-minded of round ball devotees will give up a summer Saturday evening actually to watch two sets of reserves galavant about the Stuttgart turf in a carefree and largely pointless exhibition, if you're a fantasy football manager, and particularly if you're in with a chance of winning your league, that glorified friendly could make all the difference. In the last five world cups the 3rd place game has been the highest scoring of all the final four encounters. Five goals were scored in the 2002 meeting of Turkey and South Korea, while the four equivalent matches before that produced three, four, three and six goals respectively.
In 1982 there were five goals again, but the France - West Germany semi-final, a landmark in many ways, overshadowed it. Six goals were shared (twice the maximum semi-final tally since) before the match became the first in the world cup finals to be decided by a penalty shootout. The game was won by a team recovering successfully from two goals down in a knockout fixture, the most recent of three such comebacks by the Western incarnation of current hosts Germany and one of only five such revivals in post-war world cup history. The West Germans went on to lose to Italy in the final. The last time more than six goals was scored in a semi was when West Germany lost 4-3 in 1970... to Italy. Germany have never beaten Italy in the world cup. Portugal haven't beaten France at all in seven attempts since 1975 and the French have always triumphed in competition.
In many fantasy games this is the last opportunity to make transfers and those of you with some left will be eager to make them count. In theory all remaining teams play two more matches each, but what often happens is that the 3rd place final teams field a lot of reserves. Ideally you want to pick players who are likely to be involved the rest of the way whether or not their team makes it to Sunday's Berlin showpiece. Here are our suggestions, country by country:
Each squad has two complete sets of outfield players. The most likely candidates to play in either the 3rd place or "proper" final are the guys whose playing time is pretty much the median for their squad. They're often brought on in meaningful games and haven't played so much they'd be left out for a reserve in the third placer. Scoring highly here for Germany is midfielder Tim Borowski who has featured in all five games so far, deputised for Michael Ballack in the opener and may step in again tonight for the belatedly suspended Torsten Frings. Other smart choices would be midfielder David Odonkor (three substitute appearances so far) and striker Oliver Neuville who, like Borowksi, has played in every game and also found the net crucially against Poland. Miroslav Klose continues to be an excellent choice, too, because he's chasing the tournament's "Golden Boot" award for the top scorer and so will probably continue to be chosen even if Germany go out in the semis.
Picture of German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on the set of an advertisement shoot via Cappellmesiter's Flickr stream.
A great team performance to get this far, but still a distinct lack of fantasy value from the Italians. If they don't make it to the final the chances are that almost the whole eleven will be changed. Far and away your best pick with them is to wait until tonight's teams are announced and go for whichever of Materazzi or Barzaglia replaces the injured Alessandro Nesta. There's a good chance the stand-in would also start in the final given Nesta's problems. Other than that Alessandro Del Piero is the only option who looks to be anything other than an all-or-nothing gamble.
If you're just after a guy who shoots a lot pick midfielder Maniche. He currently leads his squad in attempts on goal and has scored twice. If Deco's not hideously expensive you could do a lot worse than acquire Portugal's star attacking midfielder who has missed three games including the most recent against England and should feature all the way from here on in. Two value choices would be yet more midfielders, Tiago and Simao Sabrosa, who have both played in all the games up to this point, managing seven shots each.
Frank Ribery is probably the closest thing we have to a new star emerging in the tournament and, now he's overcome some shyness in front of goal, he seems likely to be a good value pick for the last two games. Regular substitute Sylvain Wiltord also offers a high upside, especially if he's listed as a midfielder. If you can wait till kickoff on Wednesday it might be worth seeing who Raymond Domenech plays up front with Henry (if anyone). Should Trezeguet or Saha start they should also play most of the last two games. New first team regular Florent Malouda's a risky choice if France don't make it to Berlin, but he's only played three games so might still be allowed to start in the 3rd place match should it come to that.