Argentina cruised to a 3-0 victory against Bolivia in their 2022 World Cup qualifier on Thursday, with Lionel Messi scoring a hat-trick to surpass Pele as the highest international striker in South American football history.
Messi scored his 77th, 78th, and 79th international goals to keep Argentina on track for a spot in next year’s finals in Qatar, where they will face a Bolivian team that is near the bottom of the table.
In the 14th minute, the 34-year-old Paris Saint-Germain forward, who was making his 153rd appearance for Argentina, pulled level with Pele’s long-standing record of 77 goals, nutmegging a defender and curving a stunning drive past Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.
In the 64th minute, the Argentina captain scored his second of the night, sprinting into the Bolivian area and exchanging a one-two with Lautaro Martinez before slotting away a close-range goal.
Messi completed his ninth international hat-trick two minutes from time, burying a rebound from close range after Lampe just parried a shot from the edge of the box.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” an emotional Messi stated later.
“Now I’m going to appreciate it since it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after such a long wait. I am overjoyed, “Added he.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a big adversary of the former Barcelona player, holds the all-time record for goals scored in international football, with 111 from 180 appearances.
The win came just four days after Argentina’s qualifier against regional rivals Brazil in Sao Paulo was called off after seven minutes due to a Covid-19 dispute.
After protesting the involvement of Tottenham Hotspur’s Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero, as well as Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia, the game was called off.
After being dismissed from the Argentina Football Association’s team, all four players charged by Brazil of fabricating admission records to the country did not play in Thursday’s game in Buenos Aires.
STAY PERFECT, BRAZIL
There was no evidence of a hangover from Argentina’s players’ squabble on Thursday, as Messi promptly seized center stage to smash Brazilian legend Pele’s record.
Argentina may have scored more goals if Messi had been in top form.
Lautaro Martinez of Inter Milan, who had a goal disallowed for offside in the first half, should have scored after being set up by Messi with a great chance on 39 minutes, but dragged his shot wide from close range.
In the first half, Messi should have added a second goal after skillfully connecting up with PSG teammate Angel Di Maria before blazing a curling effort just wide. However, Argentina strolled to victory because to Messi’s goals in the second half.
The victory puts the two-time World Cup winners in second place in South America’s overall qualification standings, with 18 points from eight games, six points behind leaders Brazil, who kept their perfect qualifying record with a 2-0 victory over Peru in Recife on Thursday.
Everton Ribeiro and Neymar scored for an under-strength Brazil, which was missing nine Premier League stars who had been barred by their clubs from participating in this week’s qualifications due to Covid-19 concerns.
Brazil has 24 points after winning all eight of their qualifying games.
After a 1-0 win over Ecuador in Montevideo, Uruguay climbed into third position in the standings with 15 points thanks to an injury-time winner from Gaston Pereiro.
Ecuador is in fourth place with 13 points, level with Colombia, which moved up the table with a convincing 3-1 win over Chile in Barranquilla on Thursday.
With a 2-1 win over Venezuela in Asuncion, Paraquay moved up to sixth place in the table with 11 points, two points below the automatic qualification spots.