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Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi breaks world record for goals in a calendar year
Argentina forward scores twice in opening 25 minutes of match against Real Betis
The 25-year-old matches then surpasses the 1972 milestone set by Gerd Muller
Unbeaten Barcelona win 2-1 at fifth-placed Betis to extend record start to La Liga season
Lionel Messi needed just 25 minutes to dispel any doubts that he would break Gerd Muller’s longstanding world record of 85 goals in a calendar year on Sunday.
Having made a quick recovery from the midweek injury that threatened to curtail his bid, the Barcelona soccer star drew level with the German after 16 minutes of the Spanish league match against Real Betis.
A mere nine minutes later, the 25-year-old added another accolade to his collection as he put Barcelona 2-0 ahead to surpass Muller’s 1972 milestone with a possible three more matches to play in 2012.
Fifth-placed Betis hit back before halftime through Ruben Castro, but could not prevent unbeaten league leaders Barcelona from registering a 14th win from 15 matches to extend the club’s record start to the season.
“I’ve said it a lot – it’s nice to beat records but the win for the team is what is important and the points difference at the top,” Messi told reporters after Barca retained a six-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Messi’s next challenge is to become the first man to win the world player of the year award four times, as he heads the shortlist for January’s ceremony along with clubmate Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
“If Iniesta wins, it will be well-deserved for all that he has done, for the way he plays. Again, it will also be a prize for the dressing room,” Messi said of the Spain midfielder, who beat him to last season’s top European award.
Click here to see a map of Messi’s first 84 goals of 2012
He is already Barcelona’s alltime leading scorer, having in March surpassed the 232 goal mark set by Cesar Rodriguez in the 1950s.
Last season he scored a record 50 goals in La Liga, and he already has 23 this term. Of his 86 for 2012, 74 have been for Barcelona and 12 for his country.
The world has yet to see the best of Messi on the international stage, as he has yet to win a senior title with Argentina – and that is the challenge he next faces if is to be known as a true great, according to British football journalist Henry Winter.
“Pele did it for Brazil and Maradona for Argentina. In the 2014 World Cup on Brazilian soil it’ll be wonderful to see Messi show the world what a special, special player he is,” Winter told CNN on Sunday.
Messi vs. Muller: The goal kings
“They say top players hit their peak at 27 or 28 when they have the maturity and the game craft and still the athleticism of youth. I think we’ll see a player like Messi who’s very humble, very grounded, continuing to work and develop with the great Barcelona players he’s got around him, like Xavi and Iniesta.
“He’ll be the first to pay tribute to his teammates as well, because they are important.”
Winter paid tribute to the humility of Messi, who became a father for the first time last month.
“He’s a fantastic role model, not just for his club but for football generally,” Winter said.
“He doesn’t cheat – he gets whacked by some serious tackles, but he’s strong mentally physically – even though he’s not the tallest or most imposing of individuals.
“He just keeps going because he’s got this great lust for goals, for scoring, for setting up his teammates. He’s the ultimate team player, an ambassador on and off the pitch.”
Messi’s exploits came after it appeared he might be upstaged by Atletico Madrid’s freescoring Radamel Falcao, who became the first player in more than a decade to net five times in a La Liga match.
The Colombia international took his league tally to 16 this season as second-placed Atletico kept the pressure on leaders Barca with a 6-0 thrashing of bottom team Deportivo La Coruna.
Falcao joined Ronaldo on 13 goals with a first-half double, then completed his hat-trick with a penalty after being fouled.
He added two more to seal Atletico’s eighth successive home win and guarantee that speculation about his future will intensify ahead of the January transfer window, with some of the world’s biggest clubs interested in signing the 26-year-old former Porto player.