Lionel Messi was overcome with emotion as he fulfilled a “dream” by eclipsing Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation.
Messi scored a hat-trick as Argentina cruised to a 3-0 victory over Bolivia in Thursday’s CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier and those goals took him past Pele.
His first, a curling effort after a cheeky nutmeg, saw him go level with Pele on 77, before a close-range finish just past the hour saw him set a new record.
He then added another for good measure at the end to complete his hat-trick and reach 79 goals for Argentina on a momentous night at the Monumental.
With La Albiceleste also finally able to celebrate July’s Copa America triumph – a first in 28 years – in front of their own supporters at full-time, record-breaker Messi failed to hold back the tears.
“I have dreamed of this for a long time and I thank God it was given to me,” he said on the pitch afterwards.
“It is a unique moment because of how it happened and after so much waiting.
“There was no better way for it to be and to be able to be here, celebrating, is something incredible.
“My mother and my brothers are up there, they suffered a lot too. I’m very happy.”
It was Messi’s seventh hat-trick for his country, but his first on home soil and ensured Argentina extended their unbeaten run to 22 matches, a streak that began in 2019.