Messi scores Argentina hat-trick to break Pelé’s international goals record

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick to give Argentina a 3-0 win over Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier, lifting him above Pelé as South America’s top male international scorer with 79 goals.

Messi got the opener after 14 minutes in Buenos Aires, dancing around the Bolivia defence before curling in from just outside the box. He made it 2-0 in the 64th minute after working a one-two with Lautaro Martínez and displaying superb footwork in a packed penalty box, then completed the hat-trick with two minutes left, crashing home a rebound from close range.

It was Messi’s seventh hat-trick for Argentina and took him two goals above Pelé in the scoring charts. “I was really anxious, and I really wanted to enjoy it,” Messi said. “I’ve waited a long time for this, I went for it, and I dreamt about it.”

On a night when Argentina fans were allowed to watch their national team for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Messi broke down in tears as he lifted the Copa América trophy at the Monumental stadium in front of 21,000 fans.

“My mum is here, my siblings are in the stands," él dijo. “They have suffered so much and they are here celebrating. I am very happy.”

Messi’s Paris St-Germain teammate Neymar, third on the scoring list with 69 goals, complained he is not given the respect he deserves, after Brazil beat Peru 2-0 for their eighth consecutive 2022 World Cup qualifying win.

Neymar scored having set up the opening goal for Everton Ribeiro but was criticised by fans and commentators for getting involved in scuffles and not reproducing the scintillating form that has made him one of the top players of his generation.

“I don’t know what more I need to do in this shirt for the fans to respect Neymar,” he said after the win in Recife. He was also criticised after Brazil’s 1-0 win over Chile last week, with some fans saying he looked overweight. Neymar lifted his shirt to show his abdomen and made plain his irritation in a pitch-side interview.

“This isn’t normal," él dijo. “This has been happening for a long time, from you reporters, commentators, and others as well. Sometimes I don’t even want to give interviews but I do my bit at important moments.”

Neymar has enjoyed a love-hate relationship with media and fans since bursting on to the scene as a teen prodigy with Santos. Many love his undeniable talent but some say they are put off by what they see as an excessively ostentatious lifestyle.

Neymar’s goal, tapped home five minutes before half-time after Ribeiro’s shot was saved, was his 12th in World Cup qualifiers, a Brazilian record. Brazil are top of the qualifying group and virtually guaranteed a spot at the 2022 finals in Qatar.

Argentina are six points adrift in second, with Uruguay third, a further three points back. Gastón Pereiro scored in stoppage time to give Uruguay a 1-0 win over Ecuador in Montevideo, his header their only effort on target.

Ecaudor are fourth, level with Colombia, Quien ganó 3-1 at home to Chile. The top four teams qualify automatically and the fifth-placed side go into an inter-regional play-off.

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