Lionel Messi breaks record set by Gabriel Batistuta to become Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer

Argentina captain Lionel Messi overtook Gabriel Batistuta as the country’s all-time top goal scorer on Wednesday 22 June 2016 after curling in a free kick as they defeated hosts United States 4-0 in the Copa America semi-final.

The five-time world player of the year set up Ezequiel Lavezzi’s opening goal in the third minute for Argentina’s first goal, then scored a brilliant free kick to break Argentina’s career scoring record and assisted on the final goal.

Messi scores a free kick against.

After Messi doubled the lead in the 32nd minute with his 55th international goal, his tournament-leading fifth, Gonzalo Higuain quickly ended U.S. comeback hopes when he put the rebound of his initial shot past goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the 50th minute. Higuain scored from a Messi pass in the 86th minute as well.

Argentina will seek a first major title since the 1993 Copa — and a first since Messi’s debut in 2005 — when they play Chile or Colombia on Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Batistuta struck 54 times in 78 appearances for Argentina (the AFA does not count two goals he scored against the Slovakian youth team in 1995) in an international career that ran between 1991 and 2002 and included winning the 1991 and 1993 Copa America and scoring hat tricks in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.

Of Messi’s 55 goals for Argentina, 27 have come in friendly games, 15 in World Cup qualifying encounters, eight in the Copa America and five in the World Cup.

Among Messi’s haul there have been four hat tricks, six braces and 31 single goals, with 44 coming from open play and 11 from the penalty spot.

Brazil and Paraguay are Messi’s favorite opponents; he has scored four times against each, and has netted three times against seven different countries.

Messi, then 18, made his Argentina debut in a friendly match against Hungary in 2005 but didn’t score his first international goal until his sixth appearance, a 3-2 defeat against Croatia, again in a friendly match.

Over the past two years Messi has helped Argentina reach World Cup and Copa America finals, but has not won a major senior tournament with his country.

At 28, he is also likely to surpass Cristiano Ronaldo’s record as the Champions League’s greatest-ever goalscorer too.

Messi came into this tournament with his tax evasion trial hanging over his head and a back injury sustained against Honduras in a pre-tournament friendly ruling him out of the first one-and-a-half games.

But the Barca man soon burst into life and has lit up an otherwise disappointing tournament.

Messi celebrating with team mates

Messi celebrating with team mates

With club colleague Neymar dropping out and Luis Suarez not fit to feature for Uruguay before they were surprisingly eliminated in the group stage, Messi is the sole representative of Barcelona’s much-vaunted ‘MSN’ frontline to be playing in the US this summer.

But the newly-bearded Messi has attracted big crowds Stateside and his free-kick stunner against the Americans was worth the extortionate entrance fee alone as he sent Argentina to within 90 minutes of Messi’s first international honours.

After losing both a World Cup final and a Copa America final in the last two summers, however, he won’t be taking anything for granted.

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Adeniji Idris

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