Lionel Messi carved out another piece of history by taking his international scoring tally to 102 goals for Argentina with a hat-trick against Curacao in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Three months after hoisting aloft the World Cup in Qatar, Messi led Argentina in a pair of friendlies for the nation's first matches on home soil since their triumph. The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner had clocked up a 99th international goal with a crisp free kick against Panama at River Plate's El Monumental on Thursday before then hitting triple digits a few days later.
The match against Curacao reportedly sold out in less than a minute as fans flocked to Santiago del Estero to get a glimpse of the side that won Argentina's third World Cup last December, the first since the Diego Maradona-inspired vintage of 1986.
Messi scored seven goals in Qatar - two more than El Diego managed in Mexico - including a brace in a bonkers final against France which was ultimately decided in a penalty shootout.
Curacao, ranked 86th in the world by FIFA (who still have Argentina second behind Brazil), offered little resistance as Messi opened the scoring after 20 minutes, tiptoeing around the top of the penalty area before slotting the ball into the bottom corner with his right foot.
By hitting a century of international goals, Messi has joined an exclusive club in men's football. Only Iran's Ali Daei (109 goals) and Messi's favourite statistical sparring partner Cristiano Ronaldo (122) had previously reached this milestone.
Messi became Argentina's leading scorer all the way back in 2016, surpassing Gabriel Batistuta's 54-goal record with a stunning free kick stuffed into the top corner against the USA in that year's Copa America semi-final.
Brazilian icon Pele had been the leading international scorer among South American nations with 77 goals since 1971 until Messi eclipsed the three-time World Cup winner 50 years later.
Fiorentina's Nicolas Gonzalez doubled Argentina's advantage against Curacao within the opening 25 minutes. Messi completed his hat-trick on either side of a sizzling strike from Enzo Fernandez, the World Cup's young player of the tournament, as Argentina raced into a 5-0 first-half lead. Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Montiel concluded a 7-0 rout for the reigning champions.
Along the way to 102 goals, Messi has scored nine hat-tricks for Argentina. However, his treble against Curacao was the first of his international career inside the opening 45 minutes. Even after the best part of two decades on the biggest stage, Messi is still finding records to topple and new accolades to claim.
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