Record-breaker Messi celebrates Argentina milestone in way only he knows how

By Sports Desk June 29, 2021

When it comes to Lionel Messi, there are not enough superlatives to describe his brilliance.

That was the case following Messi's magical performance in his record-breaking appearance for Argentina.

Two goals and one unbelievable assist to guide Argentina to a 4-1 rout of Bolivia at the Copa America on Monday.

Three goal involvements all in 45-minutes work for Messi, who shattered another record with his 148th international cap, surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano.

Already La Albiceleste's all-time leading scorer, it was Messi's first brace for Argentina in 18 games, dating back to August 2019. The 34-year-old also recorded his second two-goal outing in a Copa fixture.

Messi improved his international tally to 75, while netting his 11th and 12th career Copa goals – the fourth-highest scorer for Argentina at the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

 

At this stage of his remarkable career, no one should be surprised by the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

However, Messi was simply incredible from the outset in a merciless display in the final Group A fixture in Cuiaba.

Messi – who has not missed a minute of Argentina's four Copa games in 2021 so far – broke the internet in the sixth minute.

Angel Correa's turn outside the penalty area sparked the move as the ball found the feet of Messi.

Messi's back was towards goal, while the superstar captain was surrounded by at least three Bolivia defenders. But, we know how this movie ends.

He somehow scooped the ball to Alejandro Gomez and the evergreen veteran finished on the volley to cap an irresistible passage of play.

A Messi penalty followed just past the half-hour mark – the 34-year-old converting the spot-kick to get in on the action.

What happened next was even better.

Close friend Sergio Aguero, who will unite with Messi at Barcelona in 2021-22, was the architect. Manchester City's all-time leading goalscorer playing a throughball approaching half-time.

Messi beat the offside trap and beat Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe with a superb lob in the 42nd minute.

If not for Lampe's heroics, Messi – who completed a game-high 63 passes in the opponent's half while attempting four shots on target (a Copa record) – would have finished the match with more than a hat-trick.

Regardless, it was a special display as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 17 matches (W10 D7) under Lionel Scaloni – the joint-third longest undefeated sequence of a coach in the country's history, alongside Guillermo Stabile.

While Messi still covets an elusive international crown with Argentina, the famous number 10 celebrated his latest milestone only he knows how.

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    The draw leaves both teams on one point with one game remaining. Czechia face Turkiye in their final Group F match, while Georgia take on Portugal.

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    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Croatia - Luka Modric

    In what could be his final appearance for his nation at a major tournament, Modric continues to prove that age is just a number. The Real Madrid midfielder started his 15th game in the European Championships, with only Andres Iniesta (16) starting more often among midfielders in the history of the competition.

    His 20 line-breaking passes were the most of any player against Albania, and he became the oldest player on record (since 1980) to complete 100+ passes in a match at the European Championships (108 v Albania today, 38y 284d). 

     

    Italy - Gianluigi Donnarumma

    With the Italians' forward line restricted to just four shots against Spain in their last encounter, Donnarumma will be key to ensure they prevent conceding against Croatia. 

    The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper is set to make his 10th Euros appearance aged 25 years and 120 days on the day of the game, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to hit this milestone in European Championship history.

    MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

    Even though Opta's model makes Italy marginal favourties, Croatia boast an impressive record against the Azzurri and will be looking to continue that record as they look to confirm their progression to the knockout stages. 

    Since gaining independence in the early 1990s, Croatia are unbeaten in their eight meetings against Italy (W3 D5). However, their last three games have all ended 1-1. 

    Dalic's side have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1). They have won their final group game at three of their last four major tournaments (D1) since losing 3-1 to Mexico at the 2014 World Cup.

    Croatia also boast an excellent record against the current reigning champions of the tournament. This will be their fifth against the current holders of the trophy, each coming in the group stages. 

    Since the group phase was introduced in 1980, Italy have lost their final group game in only one of their nine appearances at the UEFA European Championship (W6 D2), going down 1-0 against the Republic of Ireland in 2016.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Croatia - 32.6%

    Draw - 27.7%

    Italy - 39.7%

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