Julian Nagelsmann promised to enjoy Bayern Munich's 3-0 win at Barcelona with "a couple of drinks" as he pointed to how obviously the hosts are missing Lionel Messi.

Argentine great Messi played 149 Champions League games for Barcelona, scoring 120 goals and claiming 35 assists, but his switch to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in August has left a void.

Without him, Barcelona offered little going forward and failed to get a shot on target, the first time they have posed such a meek threat in a Champions League game since at least 2003-04, Opta said.

When they were thumped 8-2 by Bayern in the Champions League quarter-finals 13 months ago, Barcelona at least had five shots on target, with Messi managing two of those.

"In different moments, Lionel Messi would have helped in special things," said Bayern head coach Nagelsmann. "It's obvious a big player left the club, but still it's a very strong team.

"We played strong defence. We changed towards the second half as well and in the second half we were definitely a bit better in control and built better chances. We certainly had the space to get more chances."

Thomas Muller gave Bayern a half-time lead and Robert Lewandowski grabbed a double after the break to make it a cruise to victory for the German champions.

Nagelsmann arrived from Bundesliga rivals RB Leipzig in the close season as successor to Hansi Flick and relished the moment of victory, which he planned to enjoy for the rest of the evening.

He described it as "a great start" and said Bayern would push to be "one of the top contenders" to be champions.

"I didn't ask in the hotel if they have proper glasses, but we're going to enjoy this win with a couple of drinks," he said.

"Winning the first game in the Champions League is always important, especially at a new club."

Asked about the evergreen prowess of veterans Muller and Lewandowski, Nagelsmann said: "I'm super happy to have these world stars on my team. It's great to work with them.

"Thomas is like a playing co-trainer who knows so much about football and tries to pass on those experiences to other players."

Lewandowski has scored in his last 18 appearances for Bayern, netting 29 goals in a run that stretches back to February in all competitions.

In the last three seasons since the start of the 2019-20 season, Lewandowski has scored 113 goals in 93 appearances for Bayern – 36 more than any other player in Europe's big five leagues in that time (Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo on 76 goals each).

He said that Lewandowski "just doesn't stop".

"And there's a definite reason why he scores so many goals," Nagelsmann said. "His whole life is directed to being a professional athlete and you can see that on the pitch."

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe could feature together for the first time when Paris Saint-Germain tackle Club Brugge, Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed.

How the superstar trio perform as a unit could define PSG's season and Pochettino's reign with the French giants, after Messi's shock switch from Barcelona.

Some observers harbour concerns that fielding three such forwards together could leave PSG exposed in other areas. Yet if they click, then PSG could be a rampant force in the Champions League, the tournament they dearly want to win.

Asked if he would select all three on Wednesday in PSG's European opener, Pochettino said: "Maybe, yes. It is possible."

There is little doubt PSG have three of the world's best forwards, but developing a winning team around them is the challenge facing their Argentine head coach.

Speaking in the pre-game news conference, Pochettino was asked whether he was excited about the prospect of the three front players teaming up.

"I will have to get on board all the excitement because I know how excited everyone is," he said. "I would be crazy to think otherwise."

Across the last four Champions League campaigns, only six players have been directly involved in 30-plus goals in the competition, and Pochettino can call on three of those in Mbappe (37 involvements), Messi (36) and Neymar (31).

If Messi plays a part, he will be making his 150th Champions League appearance after previously turning out 149 times for Barcelona, scoring 120 goals and providing 35 assists so far.

However PSG eventually line up, their Belgian hosts may be privately fearing the worst. That is because the last time Club Brugge hosted the Parisians, they were beaten 5-0 in the 2019-20 Champions League – this remains Brugge's heaviest home defeat in European competition. Mauro Icardi scored twice, while Mbappe came on as a substitute and grabbed a hat-trick.

Pochettino knows many expect his team to be major challengers for Champions League glory this season, but he believes holders Chelsea will take some stopping. He also rates the London outfit, coached by former PSG boss Thomas Tuchel, as a model that PSG should look to follow.

"Chelsea are the holders and they are the team to beat, if there is one," Pochettino said. "They have also strengthened by signing good players and have spent a lot more money than Paris Saint-Germain.

"We are not a team yet. We are a club that has recruited many players this summer. There are some very big names, but we have to turn into a team in the way that Chelsea did last season.

"Chelsea are the team to beat because they achieved their targets. We are a group of players that need to achieve the target of becoming a solid team in order to get the results that we want.

"There are no timeframes. At Paris Saint-Germain, you will be judged on the results that you achieve. There is always pressure at every club and in this case at PSG the club has been targeting a dream for many years of winning the Champions League, and that is something that we cannot deny."

Lionel Messi is set to make his first appearance in the Champions League with Paris Saint-Germain after being included in the squad to face Club Brugge on Wednesday.

The Argentina superstar made a shock move to the Parc des Princes on a free transfer last month after Barcelona were unable to meet LaLiga's financial requirements to offer him a new contract.

So far, Messi has played only 24 minutes of football for PSG, that coming as a substitute in the 4-0 rout of Reims before the international break. 

It remains to be seen if Messi will start against Brugge but he is in the travelling party for the trip to Belgium.

Messi is one of the most decorated players in Champions League history, having won the competition four times with Barca.

It he does play, it would represent a landmark 150th appearance for Messi in Europe's premier competition, and first not playing for Los Cules.

He has scored an incredible 120 Champions League goals, a tally surpassed only by the 135 of Manchester United star and long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

During their time together at Barcelona, Messi and Neymar combined for nine Champions League goals in 33 appearances alongside one another (five Messi goals, four Neymar goals). Since 2003-04, only six duos have combined for 10 or more goals in the competition, with three of those pairs involving Messi – 15 with Andres Iniesta, 12 with Luis Suarez and 10 with Dani Alves.

However, centre-back Sergio Ramos must continue his wait to make his debut for PSG. Signed on a free transfer from Real Madrid, the Spain legend remains absent with a left thigh injury.

Ramos is also a four-time winner of the Champions League, lifting the trophy three years in succession between 2016 and 2018.

Mauricio Pochettino admitted he is lost for words when it comes to describing Lionel Messi but said the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has settled in quickly at Paris Saint-Germain ahead of his Champions League debut for the club.

PSG signed Messi in August when financial issues left Barcelona unable to retain him, and he played 24 minutes of his new club's Ligue 1 victory over Reims before the international break.

Messi, who won the Champions League four times with Barcelona, is set to make his bow in the competition for PSG against Club Brugge on Wednesday, and Pochettino told UEFA.com that he is preparing well.

When asked to describe his compatriot, Pochettino said: "I may not be the most appropriate person to describe him. There are many more people who have a wider vocabulary to describe him closer to the reality Leo deserves.

"He will always be considered among the best in the world. Since he arrived, he has really adapted very quickly and he's been training very well, trying to achieve his highest level as soon as possible to compete at his best.

"I didn't think it was possible [that he would sign for us], and when an opportunity appears and everything goes so fast, you can't immediately process it. However, there's that connection: we both are Argentinian, we both support Newell's [Old Boys], we both come from Rosario.

"I have also admired him for a long time when facing him as an opponent, so having him now training with us is really nice. We hope that, together, we will be able to achieve what the club desires."

Messi's experience in the Champions League is matched by team-mate Sergio Ramos, who won the competition four times before joining PSG from Real Madrid in July.

Pochettino, who admitted that most of the players in his squad deserve to be in his starting line-up, said Ramos would be able to guide younger colleagues through the pressurised environment of Europe's top competition.

"Sergio is also a player that we think can, given the possibility, convey his experience, his competitiveness," said Pochettino.

"He's a player that has also won everything, just like Leo.

"It's good having him at the club for all that he can share with his team-mates: all that experience he gained at Real Madrid."

Lionel Messi will be the highest-rated player on FIFA 22 after EA Sports revealed the upcoming game's top 22.

The latest edition of the long-running title will be released at the start of October and will see Messi representing a team other than Barcelona for the first time.

Messi joined Paris Saint-Germain in August and will give gamers the chance to line up with him, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe all in the same front three.

With a rating of 93, Messi will be the game's best player, excluding icons and special Ultimate Team cards.

 

The ratings of Neymar and Mbappe were also among those revealed on Monday, with the pair among five players on 91 – the other three are Cristiano Ronaldo, Jan Oblak and Kevin De Bruyne.

Of course, the game will give Manchester United fans the chance to include Ronaldo in their Red Devils side after he completed his return to the club following a 12-year absence.

Messi aside, the only other player to be rated higher than Ronaldo is Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

He broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 Bundesliga goals in a single season in 2020-21 as he netted 41 times en route to the title.

 

But it was not enough to topple Messi.

Even in a season that was largely underwhelming for Barcelona, Messi still managed to score 30 LaLiga goals and he set up another nine – only four players had more assists.

This perhaps goes some way to explaining why the six-time Ballon d'Or winner just pips Lewandowski to top-billing despite the latter's historic campaign.

FIFA 22's top 22 players:

Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain – 93

Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich – 92

Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United – 91

Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City – 91

Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain – 91

Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain – 91

Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid – 91

Harry Kane, Tottenham – 90

N'Golo Kante, Chelsea – 90

Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich – 90

Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona – 90

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool – 89

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Paris Saint-Germain – 89

Karim Benzema, Real Madrid – 89

Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool – 89

Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich – 89

Son Heung-min, Tottenham – 89

Alisson, Liverpool – 89

Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid – 89

Casemiro, Real Madrid – 89

Ederson, Manchester City – 89

Sadio Mane, Liverpool – 89

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona have a "unique opportunity" for revenge as they prepare to host Bayern Munich in Tuesday's first round of Champions League matches.

The last time the two teams met, the visitors inflicted Barca's heaviest defeat since April 1951 in an 8-2 thrashing in the 2019-20 Champions League quarter-final.

Bayern have won also each of their last 17 openers in the competition since 2003-04, but Barca are unbeaten in their last 22 such fixtures – a run stretching back to 1997-98.

And Koeman is looking forward to the test against Julian Nagelsmann's side as the Catalan club prepare for their first Champions League campaign since 2003-04 without Lionel Messi, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain in August.

"Tomorrow we have the first Champions League game and we are changing things," Koeman told Monday's pre-match news conference.

"Chelsea won last year and was not among the two or three favourites. We know that Bayern is a great team, with individual quality and experienced people.

"We want to compete in the Champions League and we play at home. We will try to get a good result to start the Champions League.

"It's been more than a year and several players suffered a lot in that game [the 8-2 loss]. We have a unique opportunity. We can hurt Bayern and we have a good team. We have to look for our style to hurt the opposition."

Sergio Busquets started in midfield in the crushing defeat, but he is expecting a different challenge with Nagelsmann at the helm.

"They have a new coach and he will try to play his way," Busquets told reporters. "He has kept the entire squad, except for some who have stayed on the road like Thiago.

"He will surely try to win. What happened was difficult to accept, but the world of football is like that. Time has passed and we are psyched that it will be different."

Asked to discuss his team's Champions League hopes following Messi's departure, the midfielder said: "Anything can happen in football. Chelsea won the Champions League and were not favourites.

"The important thing is the collective level and we know that we do not have Leo [Messi] or his individualities.

"We are here, excited and we are aware of the difficulty, but we have a lot of ambition and we want to win."

Barcelona and Bayern Munich will lock horns on Tuesday in a tantalising Champions League group game at Camp Nou.

It will be the first meeting between these sides since last August in Lisbon, when they served up a 10-goal contest that will live long in the memory – although that's something Barca fans must wish were not so. 

Bayern were 8-2 winners in that quarter-final, utterly dismantling a Barca side who looked increasingly lost at sea with every goal that went in. It was a match with seismic repercussions, too: while the Bundesliga giants went on to win the treble, Barca sacked head coach Quique Setien, Lionel Messi asked to leave and the end of Josep Maria Bartomeu's presidency was hurried along.

It was also a statistical outlier in terms of more than a mere (massively) one-sided scoreline...

31 minutes of infamy

It was 1-1 after just seven minutes, a David Alaba own goal cancelling out Thomas Muller's opener, but that was about as close as the contest ever got.

Ivan Perisic, Serge Gnabry and Muller again scored before the break. It was the first time a team had conceded four goals in the first half of a Champions League knockout match for five years, and the fact all four of Bayern's first goals came inside 31 minutes was a record in the competition.

Luis Suarez got a goal back, but the game quickly descended into farce for Barca, with Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho – on loan from the Catalans – adding to the scoresheet. It meant Bayern became the first team to score eight times in a knockout game in the modern competition, as Barca conceded eight goals for the first time since an 8-0 Copa del Rey loss to Sevilla in 1946.

Expect the unexpected

Barca faced 26 shots in total, the most they have ever faced in a Champions League match along with a game against Bayer Leverkusen in December 2015, when they had already won their group. Their expected goals against figure of 5.72 was by far the highest they have posted in a game in this competition, the nearest being 3.44 against Borussia Dortmund in the group stages. Perhaps that was a warning...

It was certainly a game to forget for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in Barca's goal. He had never before conceded more than four in a Champions League match for the Catalans, saving just 38 per cent of Bayern's attempts. By contrast, he saved all but one of the 26 shots Leverkusen had in that game six years ago.

Big hero six

Of course, it was an occasion to savour for Bayern and their forwards. Muller's double took him to six goals in five games against Barca, more than any other player has managed in the Champions League (Andriy Shevchenko scored five against them). It also took the Germany international to 23 career goals in the knockout phase, a tally at the time bettered only by Messi (47) and Cristiano Ronaldo (67).

Lewandowski's goal took him to 50 in the competition for Bayern in just 60 matches. Ronaldo is the only player to have achieved the milestone in fewer games for a single side, having done so in 50 appearances for Madrid. Lewandowski also became the first Bayern player to score in eight consecutive games in the tournament, and the fifth overall.

Nelson's solemn

Even Coutinho enjoyed himself against the club where he has barely made an impact since his mega-money move from Liverpool. He has only ever scored more in a single Champions League game once – a hat-trick for Liverpool against Spartak Moscow in 2017 – and he had only managed four goals in his previous 20 appearances in the competition.

For Barca, the game descended into disjointed chaos after that end-to-end opening. Suarez ended up touching the ball in his own box as often as he did in Bayern's (three times), while Nelson Semedo endured a torrid outing a right-back, giving up possession 10 times and being dribbled past on three occasions. On average, he completed fewer than three passes for every one instance he lost the ball.

As for Messi, who probably thought this would be his last Champions League game for his boyhood club, he managed just 59 touches of the ball, his lowest figure in a game he started since the 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in February 2017. In the end, Bayern scored more goals than Barca managed shots (seven) in the contest.

Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed Lionel Messi and Neymar will not play against Clermont, while reaffirming that Kylian Mbappe is perfectly happy at Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi, who made his PSG debut at Reims before the international break, and Neymar both played as late as Thursday in respective World Cup qualifiers for Argentina and Brazil.

While Neymar scored and provided an assist in Brazil's 2-0 win over Peru, Messi netted a hat-trick against Bolivia, surpassing Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation in the process. Argentina subsequently celebrated their recent Copa America triumph with fans finally allowed back into the stadium in Buenos Aires.

Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes also featured for Argentina and Pochettino said a common-sense approach dictated none of the players would be involved in Saturday's home match against newly promoted Clermont.

"Di Maria, Paredes, Neymar and Messi, due to common sense, they are not going to be involved in the squad tomorrow," Pochettino told a news conference, though PSG's coach is hoping to have Mauro Icardi, Presnel Kimpembe and Mbappe – who suffered a calf injury while on France duty – will be fit to feature.

 

Mbappe was at the centre of one of the biggest stories of the recently closed transfer window, with PSG rejecting three bids from Real Madrid for their star striker.

The 22-year-old only has a year left to run on his contract and reports have suggested Madrid are confident he will sign for them as a free agent in 2022. For now, though, he remains at PSG, where Pochettino insists he is content.

"Mbappe is happy. He is emotionally stable. Before the end of the transfer window and now, he has stayed in the same positive mindset with the desire to play and enjoy himself," he said.

"So we are happy with how he is feeling. He has been training and recovering from the injury that he picked up on international duty. We hope he can be available tomorrow."

While PSG have incredible star power in attack, Pochettino has been keen to point out there is a balance to be struck. Indeed, his side conceded five goals across their opening three Ligue 1 fixtures and though they sit pretty on 12 points from four matches, the former Tottenham boss knows there is work to do.

"I think all the players at PSG are stars. Some might play more or less, but they are all stars," added Pochettino, who is also set to be shorn of Marco Verratti on Saturday.

"PSG as a club is bigger than any individual. We have a squad of around 35 players, they all need to feel important. In terms of managing the squad, which is our job, we need the tools so that the 35 players can feel at home and accept their place but at the same time, there are some fantastic names.

"We have to make sure they work as a team because this is a team sport and that is a big challenge that we face. I have been saying that since the start, so we are going to work hard so that it is not just about the names of Kylian, Neymar or Messi, but so that everyone feels comfortable.

"They all need a team, a structure and an organisation to win games so that has to be our main thought. We all drive towards that."

Two of PSG's latest arrivals are yet to make their debuts. Euro 2020 winner Gianluigi Donnarumma has been on the bench for the last two games, while Sergio Ramos is still working his way back to fitness.

Asked if Donnarumma could make his bow against Clermont, Pochettino replied: "We haven't decided yet who is going to be in goal. We have different options – Donnarumma is one of those options."

Pochettino also confirmed Saturday's game, as well as next week's Champions League meeting with Club Brugge, would come too soon for former Madrid captain Ramos.

"Ramos is still undergoing recovery and will not be available for that match," he explained.

"He is following the steps. We want all the players to be available as quickly as possible but it is not something that worries me. I am sure Sergio will recover well and be available soon."

Lionel Messi is leaving behind a legacy for Argentina after surpassing Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation, according to "proud" head coach Lionel Scaloni.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner scored a hat-trick in Thursday's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Bolivia to overtake Brazil great Pele as CONMEBOL's top-scoring player.

Messi's 79 goals for Argentina have come in 153 appearances, compared to 77 in 92 caps for Pele, who had held the record since retiring from international duty in 1971.

It is the latest on a long list of records to have been broken by the ex-Barcelona star for club and country, and it comes two months after helping Argentina to win the Copa America.

La Albiceleste paraded the trophy – their first in 28 years – around the pitch at the Monumental at full-time and an emotional Messi broke down in tears.

Scaloni embraced Messi on the field and later hailed the Paris Saint-Germain forward for continuing to prove decisive for his country following his latest treble.

"I am proud to have him as a player. Messi is leaving a legacy to all the soccer players of the national team," Scaloni said at his post-match news conference.

"Messi was always a player who made a difference. Before and now. Winning magnified everything, and if before he was already an idol of the people, now it is much more. 

"Seeing them excited fills us with joy, but it lasts [only] until this international window is over, because afterwards we have to continue working."

 

Messi's hat-trick was his seventh for Argentina but his first on home soil and it helped extend his country's unbeaten run to 22 matches in a run stretching back to July 2019.

He is the only Argentina player to have scored multiple hat-tricks in World Cup qualifying.

Scaloni's men are second in the 10-team qualifying group, six points behind Brazil, whom they still have to face after last week's high-profile clash was controversially suspended.

Argentina also defeated Venezuela 3-1 in the same international window and Scaloni is pleased with what he has seen over the past week.

"I think we have a line of work from day one and we have grown," he said. "We've improved and corrected things even when we've won.

"This team has sacrifice, humility and an ability to unbalance other players in one-on-one situations."

Sergio Aguero denied the presence of any get-out clauses in his Barcelona contract relating to Lionel Messi.

Aguero, who scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances for Manchester City, arrived at Camp Nou on a two-year contract following a free transfer from Pep Guardiola's men.

He was expected to link up with international colleague Messi before the Blaugrana legend departed on a free to Paris Saint-Germain, the Blaugrana's financial issues preventing them from re-signing six-time Ballon d'Or winner after his contract expired, thus ending a 21-year spell at the Catalan club.

After Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets agreed to pay cuts, Ronald Koeman's side were able to meet salary-cap restrictions and register Aguero and their other new signings.

The Argentina forward has now quashed any rumours that any so-called "Messi clause" was in his contract.

"I don't understand why there was talk of this," Aguero told RAC1. "When I signed, Leo [Messi] had nothing signed. They [Messi and Barca] were coming to an agreement.

"It was invented that there was a clause, but there was nothing.

"I didn't ask Leo much either, I didn't want to bother him.

"I saw him at the Copa America, he told me that they were about to agree, and I thought, good!

"But I didn't want to bother him every day either. I didn't speak any more after the Copa America and I was shocked when everything happened."

The 33-year-old enjoyed a stunning decade at the Etihad Stadium, but only managed seven league starts in 2020-21, playing 559 minutes across 12 appearances.

His final campaign at City was hampered by coronavirus-related issues and injuries, but when Barcelona came knocking, Aguero could not refuse.

"When I was no longer at City and the talks with Barcelona came, I knew how the club was doing financially but I told my agent that I didn't care about money, that I wanted to come and play," he continued.

"Money is not a problem. What I was getting paid at City, I wasn't going to get paid here. Any player wants to play for Barca.

"Of course I would sign again, without a doubt. If someone from Barca calls you ... the name of the club ... many players are willing to give up money."

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.

It was further proof that Argentina are building themselves back up to a standard many associate with the two-time World Cup winners after a poor showing at Russia 2018, a tournament that essentially led to a reset.

Messi's international future at the time was in doubt as he took an extended break from international football – back then, many would have suggested Pele's record looked set to outlast Argentina's talisman.

"I cannot do more than be so happy, for my family who is watching me and for all Argentines," Messi continued.

"I always say individual awards are secondary, because we are here for something else, but the truth is I am very excited."

Lionel Messi became the all-time leading goalscorer in CONMEBOL history after his hat-trick guided Argentina past Bolivia 3-0 in World Cup qualifying.

Messi broke Pele's record as the top-scoring player for a South American nation thanks to his 78th and 79th international goals on Thursday.

The 34-year-old Argentina superstar moved level with Brazil great Pele (77) after opening the scoring in the 14th minute before moving top in the history books with his 64th-minute effort in Buenos Aires, where he completed his hat-trick during the closing stages.

Lionel Scaloni's second-placed Argentina remain unbeaten on the road to Qatar 2022 with five wins from their eight fixtures, while they extended their undefeated streak to 22 matches across all competitions.

Copa America champions Argentina were back in action after their blockbuster showdown with rivals Brazil was abandoned in chaotic scenes in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

The top-of-the-table fixture was halted following an apparent breach of coronavirus regulations, Argentina naming three Premier League players in their starting line-up – Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and Tottenham pair Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso.

Martinez, Romero and Lo Celso were not involved against Bolivia as Argentina looked to continue their dominance, with the South American champions having never lost to La Verde in 15 home games in all competitions (W13, D2).

Argentina were on the front foot from the outset and opened the scoring through their talisman Messi after 15 minutes – the superstar nutmegging his opponent before curling his shot into the net.

Lautaro Martinez thought he had scored 12 minutes later, however, the Argentina forward was ruled offside.

Martinez then wasted a glorious chance in the 39th minute, side-footing a shot just wide of the post after being teed up by Messi following his run into the penalty area.

Argentina had more opportunities to extend their lead prior to half-time, but Messi saw his curling effort sail agonisingly wide of the woodwork, while Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe was fortunate not to concede in the third minute of stoppage time having emerged off his line.

Bolivia spent more time in Argentina's half in the second period, but never really troubled the home side, who doubled their lead just past the hour-mark.

Messi capped a superb team move, finding the back of the net from close range in the 65th minute as he celebrated history in front of fans, and he ended the night with a three-goal haul after pouncing on a rebound with two minutes of regulation remaining.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi created more history, surpassing Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation on Thursday.

Messi scored his 78th international goal for Argentina in their World Cup qualifier against Bolivia, breaking the record held by Brazil great Pele.

A six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Messi had moved level with Pele with his opening goal of the match on Thursday before his brace sent him clear in the record books.

Messi produced a moment of magic in the 14th minute, playing the ball through his opponent's legs before curling a shot past the goalkeeper in Buenos Aires, where the 34-year-old then made history in the 64th minute to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.

Next on the list of leading CONMEBOL scorers after Messi is Pele (77), then Uruguay's Luis Suarez (64), followed by Chile forward Alexis Sanchez (46) and Peru star Paolo Guerrero (38).

It is not the first time Messi has eclipsed Pele, having surpassed the Santos icon with the most goals for an individual club with his 644th in Barcelona colours in December.

It comes after Messi guided Argentina to Copa America glory in July, ending the country's 28-year wait for silverware with his first senior international crown.

 

Lionel Messi has equalled Brazil great Pele's record as the top-scoring player of all time for a South American nation with his 77th goal for Argentina.

The 34-year-old equalled the long-standing record when he opened the scoring for Argentina in their World Cup qualifier against Bolivia on Thursday.

Messi produced a moment of magic in the 15th minute, playing the ball through his opponent's legs before curling a shot past the goalkeeper in Buenos Aires.

Next on the list of leading CONMEBOL scorers after Messi and Pele is Uruguay's Luis Suarez (64), followed by Chile forward Alexis Sanchez (46) and Peru star Paolo Guerrero (38).

Messi is now poised to eclipse Pele and not for the first time, having surpassed the Santos icon with the most goals for an individual club with his 644th in Barcelona colours in December.

It comes after Messi guided Argentina to Copa America glory in July, ending the country's 28-year wait for silverware with his first senior international crown.

 

Lionel Messi reflected on his "special" Copa America triumph after fulfilling a dream, having been treated as a "failure" with Argentina.

Messi guided Argentina to their first trophy in 28 years – La Albiceleste dethroning defending champions and hosts Brazil in July's Copa final.

For Messi, it ended years of heartache and near misses after the superstar Argentina captain finished runner-up in the Copa America three times (2007, 2015 and 2016) as well as a beaten finalist at the 2014 World Cup.

As Argentina prepare for Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Bolivia, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi discussed his first senior international crown.

"After so much suffering, lifting something with the national team was special," Paris Saint-Germain's Messi – Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer and most-capped player – told ESPN. "There was a part of the journalists that treated me as a failure and that I didn't feel the shirt.

"Everything I won was important, I was lucky to have won a lot of things in a row at my club and very fast and the blows came later.

"With the national team, it was blow after blow, that made it more important now. It cost a lot to get it.

"When we won, I couldn't believe it. I dreamed it so much that I didn't understand what was happening. Honestly, I enjoy it more now when I see the images than that moment."

Messi won a club-record 35 trophies at Camp Nou – including 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues – before sensationally leaving Barcelona for PSG on a free transfer in 2021-22.

"I don't know where I'd place it [Copa America triumph]. Everything I won was important but this was the most difficult," Messi said.

"A lot of things happened and I won very quickly at Barcelona. At the national team, it was one hit after another."

Argentina are in the midst of a 21-match unbeaten streak – dating back to 2019 – after Sunday's blockbuster clash against Brazil was abandoned following an apparent breach of coronavirus regulations.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina are undefeated on the road to Qatar 2022 and Messi added: "You have to start by recognising that we are not the best in the world.

"We were not the worst before and we are not the best now."

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