When you’ve been left stranded on 99 international goals, and a glance at the fixture list reveals that your next opponent is Curacao, a tiny Caribbean island with a population of roughly the same size as Huddersfield, you know you’re not going to get a better chance to bring up your century.
Whether by fate or by design, Lionel Messi started Wednesday’s contest in Santiago del Estero like a man possessed in a bid to join the ‘100 club’ as soon as possible.
The 35-year-old’s big chance came after 20 minutes, when he received a pass that found him in a yard or two of space. He finished the opportunity in typical Messi fashion, before celebrating accordingly.
He went on to complete a first-half hat-trick in what was Argentina’s second game of a post-World Cup homecoming tour. Chelsea’s Enzo Fernandez was also on the scoresheet in the 7-0 thumping, which followed a 2-0 victory over Panama last week – where Messi netted the 800th goal of his career.
It’s been a month of milestones for the maestro, and whether he was aware of the fact or not Messi has become only the third player to score 100 or more goals in international football.
It might pain the Argentine to learn that his old nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, leads the way with 122 and counting – a tally bolstered by a brace against Luxembourg earlier this week.
Sandwiched in-between the modern day greats is Ali Daei, the powerful striker who notched 109 goals for Iran before retiring from football in 2007.
If the Cap Fits
It’s ironic that while Messi is celebrating a milestone moment, Ronaldo too can be feeling pretty chipper about his lot.
As well as scoring more international goals than any other player, the Portuguese ace now also boasts the record for the most international caps. Less than a week ago, he picked up his 197th cap against Liechtenstein, before extending his record against Luxembourg earlier this week.
How many more appearances CR7 will make in the red of Portugal remains to be seen, although it’s likely he will want to play on until Euro 2024 – at which point he will be 39-years-old.
His nearest rivals in the all-time caps race won’t be getting any closer, that’s for sure. The previous record-holder was Kuwait’s Bader Al-Mutawa, who finally retired in 2022 after a 19-year international career that saw him make 196 appearances for his country.
That was one more than the previous record, which was posted by Malaysia’s Soh Chin Ann. He won his 195 caps in just 15 years, and ‘unofficially’ (i.e. in non-FIFA sanctioned games) he represented Malaysia 219 times.
Of those still playing competitively, it will take some going to catch Ronaldo or to reach 200 caps – although the fact that there’s so much international football these days certainly helps.
Andres Guardado has won 179 caps for Mexico, and even though he’s now 36 he still regularly features for Real Betis. However, it’s thought that he has retired from international football after the World Cup.
Lionel Messi (174 caps) perhaps has an outside chance of reaching 200, and how about Qatar’s Hassan Al-Haydos? He’s reached 172 caps and has only just turned 32-years-old.