The Argentina v Brazil game at MetLife Stadium yesterday had been billed as a battle between Lionel Messi and Neymar. But it turned into the Messi show as the Barcelona star dazzled the 81,994 in attendance with an incredible halt-trick as Argentina beat their bitter rivals 4-3.
This was Messi’s last game of the season, and what a historical season it was as he scored an unprecedented 82 goals for club and in 2011-12.
Already a three-time FIFA Player of the Year, Messi scored 73 goals in 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.
Messi had nine goals in 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 gave him his second international hat trick and boosted his totals to 12 hat tricks this season and 22 in his career.
And to think that Messi is only 24, and not yet in the prime of his career.
But it was Brazil who dominated the first 20 minutes of the match and it was not a surprise when the Samba Boys scored first as Romulo scored from 8 yards out following a Neymar free kick.
But then Messi took over. Gonzolo Higuain stripped the ball from Sandro just before midfield and made a through pass to Messi who outran defenders Bruno Uvini and Juan, took a touch and slotted in from about 15 yards.
Three minutes later, Messi exchanged passes with Angel Di Maria near the center circle, then ran past the Brazilian defense before rounding goalkeeper Rafael Cabral and scoring into the empty net.
Impressively though the young Brazilian team did not roll over for Argentina and they got themselves back in the game through goals from Oscar in the 56th and Hulk in the 72nd minute.
Frederico Fernandez tied it three minutes later when he headed in a corner kick by Sergio Aguero and that set the stage for one more amazing piece of skill from Messi.
Messi picked up the ball ball 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 a yard shy of the arc set loose with a 23-yard rocket that went in just under the crossbar. One of the best goals you will ever see.