Lionel Messi breaks Pele's international goal scoring record, scores hat-trick versus Bolivia
Lionel Messi is now the leading international goalscorer in the history of South American football. The Argentine captain, while leading his team to a 3-0 home win against Bolivia in the World Cup qualifiers, scored a hat-trick to overtake Brazil great Pele's long-standing mark of 77. Messi's goals tally now stands at 79.
Messi, who made his 153rd appearance for the Albiceleste, bagged the seventh hat-trick of his international career.
Overall, Cristiano Ronaldo holds the highest-goalscorer record in men's international football with 111 strikes from 180 games.
How it happened
Messi opened the scoring for Argentina in front of about 20,000 lucky fans in the 14th minute. He moved the ball between a Bolivian defender's legs and shot from outside the box to the right of goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.
He once more showed style to add the second in the 64th minute. Messi and striker Lautaro Martinez exchanged four quick passes to put the six-time Ballon d'Or winner in great position. He still had time to dribble past one defender before scoring.
Messi completed his hat-trick in the 88th minute from close range after getting a rebound from Lampe.
A tearful Messi also celebrated with fans, who took their seats in an Argentinian stadium for the first time in 20 months due to the pandemic.
"Messi is leaving a legacy to all players of the national team," coach Lionel Scaloni said about the record.
"I am proud to have him as a player."
7⃣9⃣ Lionel Messi— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) September 10, 2021
⚽️⚽️⚽️ A treble against Bolivia has seen Lionel Messi become South America's highest men's international goalscorer
🔢 We pay tribute to the @Argentina maestro with quotes, stats, trivia and highlights
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Brazil beat Peru
Brazil counted on Neymar to secure their eighth win in eight matches, an easy 2-0 victory over Peru on Thursday.
Brazil have 24 points and second-place Argentina 18, both with eight matches played, one less that the other rivals after their superclasico on Sunday was suspended due to Covid-19 protocols. FIFA has yet to decide whether that match will be replayed.
Earlier, Uruguay had a 1-0 victory over Ecuador to move into third place on the table.
South American World Cup qualifiers are scheduled to have another three rounds in October, which could trigger another war with European clubs that don't want their players to travel to the region due to demands for quarantine upon their return. Except for Argentina and Colombia, no South American team managed to bring their Premier League players for the international window.
The top four teams in South American qualifiers get direct spots at next year's World Cup in Qatar, and the fifth-place team will go into an intercontinental playoff.
(With AP inputs)