Does this World Cup need all the ‘big’ stars? Messi alone is enough

The Rio Report

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This World Cup has already delivered on just about every level: enthralling matches, plenty of goals, stunning shocks and wonderful atmospheres at most of the stadiums.

The group stage has left many joyously concluding, albeit incredibly prematurely, that this World Cup could be the best ever.

As a feature on this website pointed out, we have already seen an abundance of goals, shock results, topsy-turvy games and, perhaps crucially, the big names performing.

But we could, very feasibly, be left with knock-out stages which does not feature a whole host of big names. Very soon, many of the men on whom this tournament was marketed around, could be sat at home or on a beach elsewhere. It is not a tournament the big brands will recall fondly, albeit holding out for the hope of a Neymar or Lionel Messi triumph.

On the one hand it could be seen as depressing that so many world-famous stars have not produced or been able to take their teams forward. However, when we have Lionel Messi producing the kind of brilliance he has already with memorable goals against both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, coupled with the hope that Neymar can ultimately shine for a Brazil side in search of real quality, it is still enough for this World Cup to be truly memorable.

The pair have arguably always had probably the most pressure on their shoulders of all the high-profile names involved at the World Cup, but they could soon be even more isolated in those terms. Will the tournament actually be all the better for that? In the absence of many big stars, will this be the perfect blend of shock upsets and predictable genius?

Yes, we all hope that the world's best players perform at World Cups, to leave an indelible mark - but equally, who doesn't relish a genuine upset or, in the case of many inspired individuals who have emerged so far in the group stages, discovering new and fresh talent bursting onto the scene.

Of the biggest stars marketed by Nike and Adidas - to an almost nauseating degree - so prominently prior to the World Cup, most could well have left the world's greatest tournament at the group stage. The all-conquering Spain side have already been eliminated; Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard both floundered badly for England; Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been confined to the stands; and more could follow very soon.

Nike Football: Winner Stays. ft... by Lyricis

Just take in for a moment how the standings currently sit with Cristiano Ronaldo's desperately underwhelming Portugal already in big trouble in Group G, while the sensational Luis Suarez, in spite of his masterclass against England, could well see his World Cup ended abruptly by Italy. Either way, huge stars are about to fall.

The biggest stage in international football at the business end could be played out amid the glaring omissions of Suarez, Ronaldo, Rooney, Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Diego Costa, Gareth Bale - there are many others to name.

As the famous Nike advert roared proudly, "the winner stays on". Yes, well, for almost all of their big-name stars, they have already been forced off.

But will it matter in the slightest if yet more key stars depart before the tournament reaches the key make-or-break stages? In this celebrity-obsessed world when global individual feats and icons all too often trump collective heroism, it would seem to be a major problem.

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That is, if seeing an inspired, ground-shattering Costa Rica team succeed ahead of established world giants does not set your pulses racing. For every fan who cares only for the marketable 'All in or nothing' heroes featured in high-profile ads, there is hopefully a footballing purist who delights in seeing plucky Iran give Argentina a serious scare.

If the current standings remain, the knock-out stages will feature a whole host of supposedly unfashionable or unexpected participants: Costa Rica, USA, Russia, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico among them. This is surely something to be celebrated and relished.

But we may have the perfect mix in Brazil now: Messi and Neymar, football's mightiest brands, thankfully remain in the competition with their sides expected to feature prominently through the latter stages, while the new party-crashers provide real intrigue.

Adidas ft. Messi, Alves, Suárez... by meknine

World Cups are always remembered for one or two players of real quality who shine when it really matters and produce moments that cannot be forgotten, later to become iconic within the history of the game. In Messi we have the perfect man for the occasion.

This can be Messi's defining tournament, just as it could be Neymar's; but regardless of the individual brilliance on show, some of the magnificent team performances at this World Cup have more than made up for any lack of contributions from other high-profile stars.

The very first advert following the full-time whistle and Messi's wonderful goal against Iran was of the Argentine, Rooney and Ronaldo. The England forward has already bemoaned "really disappointing" showings while Portugal suffered their biggest ever loss at a World Cup against Germany. But there was Messi, fresh from his latest heroic act.

Soon just one of the three may remain left in the competition at - arguably - a tragically early stage, but when the Barcelona star is coming up with the moments of brilliance he currently is, that is more than enough. We can be glad that he at least remains.

This tournament is hardly lacking anything, even if many of the world's most high-profile stars are not happily enjoying the party. A little part of Messi may be delighted that he could be one of the only major stars left: the stage could well be his.

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Dan Quarrell - @Dan_Eurosport

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