Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in Argentina’s 3-0 win against Bolivia to become South America’s record goalscorer in men’s international football.
Messi’s haul of 79 goals across 153 games tops Brazilian great Pelé’s 77 in 91 games.
The 34-year-old drew level with Pelé’s record in the 14th minute of Thursday’s game with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box, then moved ahead with a second-half goal that came via neat interplay with Lautaro Martínez.
He had another goal ruled out for offside but completed his hat-trick when he converted a rebound late on.
After the match, Messi was in tears as he celebrated Argentina’s Copa América title in front of 21,000 supporters at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires – the first time that fans could watch the national team since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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The trophy, which Argentina won in July with a 1-0 victory against Brazil, was Messi’s first for his country.
“I was really looking forward to enjoying this. I waited a long time for this, I looked for it and I dreamed it. It’s a unique moment for how it came about, after waiting so long,” Messi said about celebrating the Copa América victory with fans.
“There’s no better way to celebrate it than being here. My mom and my brothers were in the stands … they suffered a lot and, today, they’re here celebrating. I’m so happy.”
Following the victory against Bolivia, Argentina is now second in South America’s World Cup qualifying group for Qatar 2022 on 18 points from eight games, behind Brazil on 24.
Messi scored his first goal for Argentina in 2006 in a friendly against Croatia. Of his 79 international goals, 35 have come in friendlies, 25 in qualifiers, 12 in Copa Américas and six in World Cups.
Brazil’s Marta is the top South American scorer with 109 goals for the women’s team.
Earlier this month, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo became the top international scorer in men’s football with his 111th goal, surpassing the previous record of 109 held by Iran’s Ali Daei.
Ahead of this season, Messi moved to French side Paris Saint-Germain in a bid to win the Champions League, ending his long-term association with Barcelona.
“It’s good for French football, for the league, for the media, for the spectators,” AS Monaco midfielder Cesc Fàbregas, who played alongside Messi at Barcelona, told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies of his former teammate’s move earlier this week.
“I think everyone is really excited about it. Obviously, he’s an icon wherever he goes. I think it was also unexpected so that makes it even better.”
Fàbregas also said that he never expected Messi to leave Barcelona, adding: “I didn’t think that this day would come. I’ve experienced many things in football, things that you cannot even imagine and some of them are very unexpected.”