Lionel Messi grabbed a sublime hat-trick for Argentina in their World Cup qualifying win over Bolivia as he overtook Pele's record to become the top international scorer in South American football history.
The Paris Saint-Germain attacker scored all three in Argentina's 3-0 win in Buenos Aires on Thursday that took Messi to 79 international goals in 153 games - two goals clear of the Brazilian legend.
Messi’s PSG teammate Neymar sits third on the South American list with 68 goals.
The former Barcelona star's old rival Cristiano Ronaldo has just broken the outright scoring record in international football after his two headers against the Republic of Ireland took him to 111 goals in 180 games for Portugal.
Messi, 34, opened the scoring in the 14th minute in the Argentinian capital when he nutmegged a Bolivian defender and finished superbly past goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.
In the 64th minute, Messi moved clear of Pele's total after exchanging passes with striker Lautaro Martinez before recovering possession after a Bolivian block and firing home from close range.
Messi completed the seventh international hat-trick of his career two minutes from time, burying a rebound after a shot from the edge of the area was only parried by Lampe.
It came on a night when Argentine fans were allowed to watch their national team for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and Messi broke down in tears as he lifted the Copa America trophy at the Monumental Stadium.
“I really wanted to be able to enjoy it,” Messi said after the match. “I waited a long time for this, I looked for it and I dreamt of it. It’s a unique moment for the way it happened after so much waiting.
“There was no better way to celebrate this than to be here. My mother, my brothers are in the stands … They suffered a lot and today, they are here celebrating. I’m very happy.”
The win leaves the two-time World Cup winners second in South America's overall qualifying standings with 18 points from eight games.
It came just four days after Argentina were embroiled in controversy with rivals Brazil in Sao Paulo, when the two teams' qualifier on Sunday was abandoned after just seven minutes due to a remarkable Covid-19 controversy.
Brazilian authorities stopped the game after protesting at the involvement of England-based players Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero of Tottenham, and Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia.
All four players, who were accused by Brazil of falsifying entry records to the country, played no part in Thursday's game after being released from the squad by the Argentina Football Association.