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29th Jun 2018

World Cup Comments: James Corden, Paul McCartney and why, in this anarchic tournament, Messi is underrated

Against Nigeria, Lionel Messi demonstrated that, if anything, like The Beatles, he is underrated

Dion Fanning

Nearly 100 million people have already viewed James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney so it’s unlikely anybody needs to be told how it unfolds

The journey around Liverpool is an emotional one and ends in a Liverpool pub where a drinker puts a Beatles song on the jukebox and is surprised when a curtain is pulled back and there is McCartney and his band playing his choice, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

The pub fills up, people weep and it is the finale to a beautiful journey McCartney – accompanied by Corden – makes around Liverpool.

Corden is not at his most obtrusive and his interventions keep things moving along without becoming too much about James Corden, but it’s another example of why Paul McCartney – and, by extension, The Beatles – are underrated.

No matter what the circumstances, no matter how unpromising the situation due to the presence of, say, James Corden, or how likely it was to be undermined by bullshit, their greatness always prevailed.

This was done in an extraordinarily effortless way which, of course, led people to dismiss them, to see McCartney in particular, as some sort of sentimental lightweight, who could never be what he is not: John Lennon. It fed into the tiresome debate about who was the greatest (the answer, of course, was both of them).

For some, Argentina’s early World Cup matches demonstrated that Lionel Messi was overrated. He was protected and insulated at Barcelona, while the World Cup was the real world and on those mean streets, Ronaldo was king. Messi could not do what Ronaldo does.

There were those who insisted that Lionel Messi’s struggles at this World Cup gave advantage to Ronaldo in the tiresome debate over who is the greatest (the answer, of course, is both of them).

The fact that Messi had already done it was forgotten. He had carried this team to the World Cup after he’d announced his retirement following defeat in the Copa America final two years ago.

But then along came Nigeria and Messi demonstrated that, if anything, like The Beatles, he is underrated.

Messi, weighed down by the expectation to be something he is not – Maradona, burdened with responsibility thanks to the ineffectiveness of Jorge Sampaoli and the mutiny which has undermined him, and asked by a nation which is desperate for World Cup triumph to take his country there, succeeded.

Argentina are not The Beatles. Messi has to get up on stage with a couple of guys who are holding their guitars the wrong way round and a drummer who can’t keep time. But in this moments when he gathered Ever Banega’s pass – in truth in the moments before he gathered it because, inside Messi’s head, the work was already done at that stage – he demonstrated again that he, too, can prevail over the bullshit.

He has had to listen to Sampaoli doing Carpool Karaoke in the seat beside him, he has put up with Maxi Meza and the rest trying to bluff their way through a game of football and, still, when it mattered most, Messi was there.

Nobody has had to endure more bullshit and intrusion in the truest sense than Messi.

He may well have brought some of this on himself as he assumes power over a side that, without him, would have no power at all.

We accept that he is an artist but he is an artist who has been asked to work as they tear down his studio while arguing over who knocked through the supporting wall.

But he is still capable of painting his masterpiece. On Saturday, Argentina play France in a game which puts one, vast, dysfunctional personality against a team with no personality at all. If this World Cup is going to continue on its anarchic way then it is important that Argentina somehow find a way.

For France to show some sort of assertiveness now would be a worrying sign for the competition which could do without their particular brand of dourness.

None of this seems to matter, though, after England secured the World Cup with defeat against Belgium on Thursday night.

England will complete the last sixteen matches with their game against Colombia on Tuesday evening and it is possible to believe that something important has been lost by the decision to rest players against Belgium.

If England’s joy at victory in their first two games could be explained as the delight of a country which didn’t really fancy their chances, they are now worryingly reverting to type.

England are now expecting, they are anticipating a path to the final and seeing opponents as they should really see themselves.

There is a reason ‘take it one game at a time’ became a cliche and it’s because the idea that any opponent can be dismissed or viewed as an inconvenient stop-off on the way to their destination is a dangerous one.

For a side that has beaten Panama and Tunisia, it is a particularly dangerous one. A country which hasn’t won a knockout game in the World Cup since beating Ecuador in 2006 probably shouldn’t overthink things.

Southgate and his players will not be underestimating Colombia, who have demonstrated their threat already in the competition, but the general mood of celebration after the defeat to Belgium should be of some concern.

By making the changes he did, Southgate encouraged this way of thinking. He will say he needed to rest players but it remains to be seen if they wouldn’t have benefited from a tougher test.

England are now in the so-called weaker half of the draw, although it contains the most impressive team in the competition so far, Croatia, and a Spanish team which may yet become a threat if they can erase some of their vulnerabilities.

Many of these centre around David de Gea, who may be dropped for Sunday’s game against Russia. One of Spain’s strengths appeared to be their defence but there has been too much anarchy from the opening minutes of their game against Portugal to put faith in it.

While Brazil looked strong against Serbia, it has allowed people to forget their struggles against Costa Rica and Switzerland, but they are still favourites for a reason.

But the most important thing is that the anarchy continues. Four years ago, the knockout games, despite the 7-1, faltered after the excitement of the group stage.

VAR is the best hope this won’t happen again. It is harder to get away with the sneaky fouls that are a key part of playing for a 0-0 with VAR in operation and there is a chaos which makes suffocating a game more difficult.

Argentina will hope that this chaos benefits them on Saturday in Kazan. As usual, they will turn to one man. As usual, they will hope that genius can endure any amount of bullshit. The World Cup needs Lionel Messi to show, once again, that he can withstand it all.