EAST RUTHERFORD: Capping a record-setting season with a spectacular display, Lionel Messi scored from three dazzling runs to finish with an unprecedented 82 goals for club and country and lead Argentina over South American rival Brazil 4-3 in a friendly Saturday.
“It was a very good year, and this was a great way to finish it,” Messi said through a translator.
Already a three-time FIFA Player of the Year at age 24, Messi scored 73 goals from 60 games this season for Barcelona, breaking the previous European club record of 67 goals set by Bayern Munich’s Gerd Mueller in 1972-73 and the world club record of 70 by Archie Stark of Bethlehem Steel in the American Soccer League in 1924-25.
“It’s beautiful that people actually recognize me and know me and love my play,” Messi said. “But again, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn't because of my teammates.”
Messi scored nine goals from nine games for Argentina in the same span, raising his career total to 26 in 70 appearances. His goals in the 31st, 34th and 84th minutes Saturday gave him his second international hat trick and boosted his totals to 12 hat tricks this season and 22 in his career.
“I don’t feel like I’m one of the best players yet,” Messi said. “I want to keep growing, getting stronger and be in front of my team , and win, of course, because when you win, everything's easier.”
Brazil dominated in the first 20 minutes, and Romulo put the Selecao ahead in the 23rd from short range with a right-footed shot from 8 meters off Neymar’s free kick.
Messi followed by flashing the explosive speed and technical ability that has many ranking him alongside Pele and Diego Maradona among football’s greatest players.
Gonzolo Higuain stripped the ball from Sandro just before midfield and passed to Messi. He outran defenders Bruno Uvini and Juan, took a touch and slotted in from about 15 meters.
Three minutes later, Messi exchanged passes with Angel Di Maria, usually a rival from Real Madrid , near the center circle, then burst in, rounded goalkeeper Rafael Cabral and scored from 10 meters to the delight of 81,994 fans at MetLife Stadium, a record for football in New Jersey..
“Amazing. Amazing. It’s unbelievable,” said midfielder Javier Mascherano, his teammate at Argentina and Barcelona. “He’s the best player in the world, maybe one of the best players in history.”
Using a mostly youthful squad ahead of the Olympics, Brazil took a 3-2 lead with goals by Oscar in the 56th and Hulk in the 72nd, the latter when goalkeeper Sergio Romero batted a corner attempt right to him, but Frederico Fernandez equalized three minutes later when he headed in a corner by substitute Sergio Aguero.
Then came a goal that will long be remembered. Messi took a pass just past midfield near the sideline, dribbled around Marcelo and cut diagonally for the goal. He took a half-dozen touches as defenders dropped back. Then, with Juan stepping up to stop Messi’s run, the Argentine cut to the center and just short of the arc let loose with a 23-meter rocket that went in just under the crossbar.
Messi ran to his bench and was mobbed by teammates as Rafael Cabral turned and retrieved the ball from the net with a disgusted look. It was his 26th goal from 70 games for Argentina.
“Nobody can defend again him,” Albiceleste defender Pablo Zabaleta said through a translator. “He makes the difference on any team.
He’s incredible, the way he plays. He goes hand in hand with his team. He goes from the right, the middle, shares the ball. You can't stop him.”
Barcelona lost its Champions League and Spanish league titles, but won the Club World Cup and Copa del Rey this season. Argentina, coming off a disappointing 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America, is in the middle of qualifying for the 2014 tournament, which will be played in Brazil.
“I’m not sure if the amount of goals made me feel better,” Messi said. “Being able to finish like this against Brazil and win, I’m happy, I’m calm. I didn’t ask for the ball, but they gave it to me anyway.”
Brazil: Rafael Cabral; Rafael da Silva (Danilo, 80), Bruno Uvini, Juan, Marcelo; Sandro, Romulo (Casemiro, 74), Oscar (Giuliano, 60); Neymar, Hulk (Lucas, 83), Leandro Damiao (Alexandre Pato, 68)
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta, Clemente Rodriguez (Hugo Campagnaro, 88); Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, Jose Sosa, Angel Di Maria (Sergio Aguero, 74); Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain (Ezequiel Lavezzi, 88)