Argentina captain Lionel Messi overtook Gabriel Batistuta as the country’s all-time top goal scorer on Wednesday morning 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.
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 favourite 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.