The last thing England want right now is a third-place play-off game

England's Dele Alli, right, and Eric Dier after losing to Croatia Picture: PA

England's Dele Alli, right, and Eric Dier after losing to Croatia Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Can anyone tell me the point of the World Cup third-placed play-off?

Down and out in Russia - Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku Picture: PA

Down and out in Russia - Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku Picture: PA - Credit: AP

Yup, I'd love to be good enough to play in one. But if I were a professional, international footballer, this is the last fixture I would want to fulfil.

I'd suffer cramps, twists, pulls and pushes of any sort to get out of it. I hate flying, but I would be begging to be put on the first plane out of Russia to avoid it.

Top sports men and women have a built-in mechanism that is all about winning. They push themselves to great lengths to be the best at what they do. I have watched boxers working until they are fit to drop so get themselves into the best possible shape.

Physically, our footballers are in the peak of condition – what might have been a muscle tweak you could play through a decade ago is now enough to put you on the sidelines and wrapped in cotton wool. They are machines.

France's Paul Pogba celebrates after the win over Belgium Picture: PA

France's Paul Pogba celebrates after the win over Belgium Picture: PA - Credit: AP


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Mentally, they are different beasts to the rest of us. They cannot contemplate defeat: if they do, that weak spot in their make-up is exposed, it opens into a gaping wide hole and they are no longer considered top of their tree.

The World Cup began with 32 teams of the highest quality: no matter that Panama, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt were below the very best, they are still among the best football teams in the world.

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The prize is a 6.1kg, 18-carat trophy on which no one can put a value. It is priceless.

The third-place match is just worthless. It may give players an opportunity to enjoy a pressure-free game of football, to wave to the travelling supporters and then go home, but for people conditioned to win, it is, for fear of repetition, worthless.

Belgium fans contemplate the consolation prize after defeat to France Picture: PA

Belgium fans contemplate the consolation prize after defeat to France Picture: PA - Credit: AP

Perhaps managers will give a run-out to those who have not featured for their countries, but that simply undermines any importance Fifa believe the fixture has. And if you are a fringe player, being named into this meaningless fixture is a bit of a sleight, don't you think? You know you are a fringe player, it does not need rubbing in.

Frankly, all the teams want to do is go home and face the music: either fans waving in appreciation or, if you've had a stinker, rotten tomatoes at the airport.

Look at the faces of Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany after Belgium were knocked out by France on Tuesday night.

They wanted out of there as soon as possible, to a place where they could drown their sorrows in private, gather their thoughts and go again.

They did not walk off thinking, 'oh good, that's earned us a third-place play-off match in St Petersburg on Saturday afternoon'.

I can't wait for Saturday #sarcasm

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