And the showdown for the final place on the podium often proves most rewarding for dark horses that have lit up a tournament, such as Sweden at USA 1994, Croatia at France 1998 and Turkey at Korea/Japan 2002. What's more, with the pressure off and coaches’ tactical leashes loosened, these games can result in end-to-end football, chances aplenty and goals galore.
Uruguay-Germany, play-off for third place, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, Saturday 10 July, 20:30 (local time)
This is the second time Germany and Uruguay have met to contest third place at a FIFA World Cup, with the pair doing battle at the same stage of Mexico 1970. At the finals 40 years ago, Die Nationalmannschaft had lost a semi-final thriller 4-3 to Italy, while La Celeste had been downed 3-1 by eventual winners Brazil, with the Germans snatching third spot thanks to a solitary 26th-minute strike from Wolfgang Overath.
The two teams also met in the quarter-finals at England 1966 in a match Germany won 4-0, and again at Mexico 1986, when the pair’s group meeting ended 1-1. In conclusive proof of their historical upper hand, of a total of nine international matches between the duo to date, Germany have won six and suffered only one defeat, which came at the 1928 edition of the Olympic Football Tournament.
Not that Oscar Tabarez’s charges will let the record books concern them, having exceeded all expectations with the country’s best FIFA World Cup performance since lifting the Trophy for the second time at Brazil 1950. As they seek a victory which would crown their impressive showing on South African soil, striker Luis Suarez returns after missing the semi-final defeat against Netherlands through suspension while captain Diego Lugano should be fit to play after missing said game with a knee injury. Leading scorer Diego Forlan, meanwhile, has been declared fit to play despite a knock against the Dutch and, with four goals so far, is only one strike behind adidas Golden Boot pace-setters Wesley Sneijder and David Villa.
Speaking of in-form forwards, the spotlight will also no doubt fall on Miroslav Klose, now just one goal behind the all-time FIFA World Cup record of 15, set by Brazil’s Ronaldo. However, his appearance in what will be Germany’s 99th match at the competition is in doubt after suffering he suffered a back injury against Spain on Wednesday, while midfielders Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira's participation is also in doubt. German coach Joachim Low is therefore expected to give a run-out to squad players such as Serdar Tasci, Dennis Aogo and Stefan Kiessling.
Players to watch
Miroslav Klose vs Diego Forlan
This duo of vastly experienced strikers have four goals apiece so far and will be determined to further their respective Golden Boot hopes by finding the net again at the Port Elizabeth Stadium. The lethal pair both picked up knocks in their sides’ semi-final defeats, however, and may struggle to fire on all cylinders come Saturday evening.
10 – The signs suggest that the match for third place is unlikely to go to extra time, given that Germany’s last ten games - including friendlies - have all had a winner after 90 minutes.