BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentine star Lionel Messi became the top international goal scorer in South American history on Thursday, overtaking Brazil’s Pelé. The 34-year-old netted all the goals at Argentina’s 3-0 win against Bolivia in World Cup qualifying, and now has 79 for the national team.
Messi scored his goals in 153 caps for Argentina, while Pelé netted his 77 in 92 official matches for Brazil.
Both goals at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires, in front of about 20,000 fans, were pieces of art by the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
The first came in the 14th minute, with Messi moving the ball between a Bolivian defender’s legs and shooting from outside the box to the right of goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.
The second came in the 64th minute after he and striker Lautaro Martinez dazzled the Bolivian defense with a quick exchange of four passes. Messi 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.
Messi didn’t speak about the record after the match, but celebrated by lifting the Copa America trophy in front of home fans, who were allowed to attend after a 20-month pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I waited a lot of time for this, I sought this, I dreamed about this,” he said. “It is a single moment because of the way it happened, after so much wait.”
“There was no better way to celebrate than being here,” he added. “My mom, my brothers are here in the tribunes… They suffered a lot and today they are here celebrating. I am very happy.”
Messi had a troubled relationship with the national team, with a series of hurtful defeats in World Cups and Copa Americas, until he led the team to the continental title against Brazil in July. It was his first major title with Argentina, a team that was in a 28-year title drought.
Three-time World Cup winner Pelé is currently in hospital due to surgery for a tumor on his colon.
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