Messi overhauls Pele's long-standing landmark

10 Sep 2021
  • Lionel Messi has surpassed Pele as South America's top international scorer

  • A hat-trick against Bolivia saw the Argentina No10 reach 79 goals in 153 appearances

  • We pay tribute with quotes, stats, trivia and best moments

PlayerCountryGoalsGamesRatio
Lionel MessiArgentina791530.52
PeleBrazil77910.85
NeymarBrazil691120.62
Luis SuarezUruguay641230.52
RonaldoBrazil62980.63
RomarioBrazil55700.79
Gabriel BatistutaArgentina54770.70
Edinson CavaniUruguay531230.43
ZicoBrazil48710.68
Alexis SanchezChile431390.31

The stat

Pele had reigned as South America’s outright leading international marksman for 59 years since outranking Ademir de Menezes, who hit 32 goals for Brazil.

I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinian football and his name is Messi.

Diego Maradona in 2006

Did you know?

Diego Maradona and Messi both made their Argentina debuts against Hungary, coming off the bench in the 62nd and 63rd minutes respectively. ‘La Pulga Atomica’ was sent off just two minutes into his bow.

The one that got it started…

On 1 March 2006, having already brilliantly set up Carlos Tevez’s goal, Messi intercepted a Stjepan Tomas pass, jinked inside the Croatia defender and exquisitely curled the ball home from just outside the box.

When Messi first scored for Argentina…

Twitter and iPhones didn’t exist. Facebook was effectively only accessible to North American students. The Big Bang Theory, Ugly Betty, Dexter and Keeping Up with the Kardashians had yet to hit TV screens. Novak Djokovic had yet to win an ATP title and was ranked 63rd in the world. We Belong Together by Mariah Carey, Gold Digger by Kanye West, Sorry by Madonna and Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield were flying high on singles’ charts across the globe. Pluto was the universe’s ninth planet. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet months later. Momiji Nishiya and Rayssa Leal, who seized gold and silver in women’s street skating at Tokyo 2020, were not even born. Brokeback Mountain, Crash, King Kong and Memoirs of a Geisha had just won a joint-high three awards at the Oscars.

The blinding big-stage intro

Messi was sent on for his FIFA World Cup™ debut in the 76th minute against Serbia and Montenegro at Germany 2006. Within three minutes he’d set up Hernan Crespo to score and ten minutes later he slotted home to seal a 6-0 victory – Argentina’s joint-biggest in the competition.

PlayerCountryAgeYear
PeleBrazil17 and 239 days1958
Manuel RosasMexico18 and 93 days1930
Michael OwenEngland18 and 191 days1998
Nicolae KovacsRomania18 and 198 days1930
Dimitri SychevRussia18 and 232 days2002
Lionel MessiArgentina18 and 358 days2006
Aleksandar TirnanicYugoslavia18 and 365 days1930
Julian GreenUSA19 and 25 days2014
Divock OrigiBelgium19 and 65 days2014
Martin HoffmanEast Germany19 and 88 days1974

They once said you could only stop me with a pistol. Today you need a machine gun to stop Messi.

Hristo Stoichkov

Top five golazos

Mexico Copa America 2007 There are chips, there are incredible chips and then there’s Messi’s masterpiece. The elevation was truly mind-blowing. It helped Argentina reach the final.

Brazil International friendly, 2012 In the 84th minute of an engrossing East Rutherford clash, Messi collected the ball, pinned to the right touchline, with Marcelo pouncing. The Argentinian somehow conned his adversary, carried the ball north-west and, from just outside the box, fizzed an impeccable curler into the top corner to seal his hat-trick and a 4-3 win. It was nominated for that year’s FIFA Puskás Award. Bosnia and Herzegovina Brazil 2014 Messi picked up possession near the centre-circle, shimmied Muhamed Besic and set off. He then played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain, exquisitely slalomed around Ermin Bicakcic and produced a supreme, low finish from just outside the penalty area that went in off the post and, ultimately, earned Argentina a 2-1 victory in their opener.

IR Iran Brazil 2014 The deadlock was intact when the ball fell to Messi in injury time. Minimal danger seemed apparent but he instantly shifted the ball to his left and produced a sensational strike from distance. Nigeria Russia 2018 The movement; the imaginative, exceptional, first-time control on his thigh, the palatial second touch to ward off Kenneth Omeruo; the dynamic finish… hypothetically, would any other player in football history have scored that goal? Messi did it to help snatch a 2-1 victory in a win-or-bust game for Argentina.

When he becomes your captain, you’d go to war for him if he asked you to.

Rodrigo De Paul to FIFA.com
PlayerCountryGoalsGamesRatio
Lionel MessiArgentina26520.50
Luis SuarezUruguay25530.47
Marcelo MartinsBolivia21510.41
Hernan CrespoArgentina19330.58
Marcelo SalasChile18320.56
Ivan ZamoranoChile17240.71
Edinson CavaniUruguay17420.40
Alexis SanchezChile17470.36

World Cup milestones

  • Messi is the only player to provide an assist in four World Cups.

  • The Argentinian is the only player to score in the competition in his teens, 20s and 30s.

I think he reached and surpassed the level of Maradona. He does incredible things, at a speed that is insane.

Paolo Maldini

The long wait

Messi propelled Argentina to FIFA U-20 World Cup™ and Men’s Olympic Football Tournament glory, but had to wait 16 years for his first senior international title. After finishing runner-up thrice at the Copa America and once at the World Cup, the Rosario native helped La Albiceleste conquer South America in July.