Copa America: Messi dazzles in record-breaking Argentina appearance
Messi's 74th and 75th international goals helped extend Argentina’s unbeaten run to 17 games
With his inauspicious Argentina debut nothing but a distant memory, Lionel Messi became his country’s most capped player on Monday in their 4-1 Copa America victory over Bolivia.
A perennial candidate in the ‘Greatest of All Time’ debate, Messi marked the occasion in style with a virtuoso performance, scoring twice and setting up another in his 148th national team appearance, surpassing Javier Mascherano’s record.
It was all a far cry from his debut in 2005 when he was sent off after just 43 seconds.
Coming on the pitch as a second-half substitute in a friendly against Hungary in Budapest, the then 18-year-old was red carded for swinging an arm in an opponent’s face.
Argentina’s record scorer, Messi’s 74th and 75th international goals helped extend the side’s unbeaten run to 17 games on Monday and booked a quarterfinal tie against Ecuador on Saturday.
Argentina have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and Messi, who has won every honour available to him at Barcelona, is desperate for some success in a blue and white shirt.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win everything at club level and individual level and it would be lovely also to win something with the national side,” the 34-year-old said on the eve of this year’s Copa. “That’s my dream.”
His Spanish club were among those to send their congratulations for his record-breaking achievement on Monday: “A true legend, Leo! Congratulations”.
Messi has appeared in three Copa America finals, as well as the 2014 World Cup final, all of which Argentina lost. However, they are in good form going into the last eight of the Copa and are undefeated since 2019.
They next face Ecuador in Goiania on Saturday for a place in the semifinals.
On Monday, Messi was in fine form on his 148th appearance for Argentina and it was his sublime pass that set up Alejandro Gomez to volley home the opening goal after five minutes.
Messi doubled their lead from the penalty spot just after the half-hour mark and then made it 3-0 shortly before halftime when he ran on to a through ball from Sergio Aguero and lobbed Carlos Lampe.
Bolivia, who had lost their previous 11 Copa America matches, made life more difficult for themselves by repeatedly giving up possession in their own half.
However, they improved after the break and surprised Argentina on the hour when Erwin Saavedra swept home a cross from the right to make it 3-1.
Their slight hopes of a comeback were extinguished within five minutes as substitute Lautaro Martinez restored Argentina’s three-goal advantage within seconds of replacing Sergio Aguero.
Messi’s goals were his 74th and 75th for the national side and it could have been more but for another excellent performance by Lampe in the Bolivian goal.
“We’re in good form going into the quarterfinals,” said Giovani Lo Celso, who came on in the second half.
“The team knows how it is playing and what it wants to do. We’re getting better and now comes the most beautiful part.”
Host nation Brazil will take on Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, while Paraguay play Peru the same day.
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